Conflict swirls around gold mining

| Print |  Email
Articles - October 2010
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
1010_ATS16
The Chetco River is the site of a battle over gold dredging operations. // PHOTO COURTESY OF FRIENDS OF THE KALMIOPSOS
A long-simmering conflict over individual versus public rights has converged on the banks of the rivers of southwest Oregon, stirring resentment between gold miners and environmentalists. In question is whether suction dredging poses a threat to river wildlife and if the long-standing individual right to mine in the state should be amended.

Suction dredging is a mining technique by which riverbed gravel is removed by a gas-powered machine, sifted for bits of gold, and released back into the river. Both sides cite conflicting evidence as to whether it is harmful to wildlife in river habitats. U.S. Forest Service geologist Greg Visconty, based in Portland, says the high price of gold (about $1,200 an ounce) in addition to a temporary ban on suction dredging in California is driving the increase in mining in the Rogue, Chetco and Illinois rivers. According to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, dredging permits in the state rose from 934 in 2009 to 1,205 this year.

The general mining act of 1872 establishes the individual right to mine. The anti-mining contingent is trying to protect the rivers by stopping further mining claims. The Forest Service, trying to accommodate both sides, has restricted dredging equipment size to reduce potential harm.

The most contentious point right now is how much mining can be done under current laws, which allow mining in wilderness areas if the claim was awarded before any wilderness protection. Most miners mine recreationally or for supplemental income. Robert Stumbo, owner of the Armadillo Mining Shop in Grants Pass, says most of his clientele are struggling to make ends meet in a county with high unemployment.

But Seattle developer David Rutan’s company, Chetco River Mining and Exploration, has bigger plans for its claims on the Chetco. Chetco River Mining has built a group of cabins on the Little Chetco River to attract prospector-tourists and proposes to commercially mine one of its claims in the Kalmiopsis wilderness area. Rutan’s plans have environmentalists up in arms. “He can’t do this legally,” Pete Frost of the Western Environmental Law Center of Eugene says of Rutan’s proposal. 

“It’s not an antiquated law, it’s been updated several times,” Rutan says of the 1872 mining law’s legitimacy. “The law speaks for itself.”

The Forest Service currently is assessing Rutan’s claim in the Kalmiopsis. If the claim is deemed profitable and was filed before the Oregon Wilderness Act of 1984, Rutan will have the right to mine.

“Whether it takes five or 10 years, we’ll get it through,” Rutan says. “It’s immaterial how long it takes or how much it costs.”
PETER BELAND
 

More Articles

Up in the Air

June 2015
Friday, May 22, 2015
BY ANNIE ELLISON

Portland tech veteran Ben Berry is leaving his post as Portland’s chief technology officer for a full-time role producing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) aimed at first responders and the military. Berry’s AirShip Technologies Group is poised to be on the ground floor of an industry that will supply drones to as many as 100,000 police, fire and emergency agencies nationwide. He reveals the plan for takeoff.


Read more...

Make the Case

May 2015
Monday, April 27, 2015

10 briefcases that mean business.


Read more...

No Boundaries

June 2015
Friday, May 22, 2015
BY AMY MILSHTEIN

Floor plans embrace the great wide open.


Read more...

6 development projects reshaping Bend

The Latest
Thursday, April 09, 2015
bendthumbBY JACOB PALMER | DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

Bend has reclaimed its prerecession title as one of the fastest growing cities in the country.


Read more...

Celestial Eats

May 2015
Monday, April 27, 2015
BY JACOB PALMER AND EILEEN GARVIN

A power lunch at Solstice Wood Fire Cafe & Bar.


Read more...

Photo Diary: Forest Grove Farmers Market

The Latest
Thursday, May 14, 2015
IMG 8469BY JASON E. KAPLAN | STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

There are more than 160 farmers markets in Oregon, contributing an estimated $50 million in sales, according to the Oregon Farmers Markets Association. We checked in on the Forest Grove market, which for several years has brought local produce and food vendors to Main Street in the center of town.


Read more...

Downtime with the director of Barley's Angels

May 2015
Monday, April 27, 2015
BY JACOB PALMER

Live, Work, Play with Christine Jump.


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS