Miners sue Oregon over dredging ban


MEDFORD — Miners are asking the federal government to intervene and prevent Oregon from shutting down certain types of mining in wild salmon rivers like the Rogue.

A consortium of mining interests filed a lawsuit Monday challenging the state's five-year ban on most suction dredging, which uses a floating vacuum to suck gravel from a stream bottom so it can be mined for heavy metals and gold. The group says federal mining laws trump state restrictions on federal lands, reported The Mail Tribune of Medford.

“This is our way of telling the state of Oregon to drop dead,” said Rick Barclay, president of one of the case's plaintiffs, the Galice Mining District.

The legislature passed a bill in 2013 that places restrictions on dredging and caps the number of available permits. It was designed to end at the end of 2015, giving lawmakers time to devise permanent rules. They never did.

If a lawmaker introduces legislation that would keep dredging restrictions on the table, it may be allowed to continue without a problem. Medford Democrat Sen. Alan Bates said he plans to introduce such legislation this winter.

“We'll eliminate the moratorium with the new bill,” Bates said. “If the bill doesn't pass, we'll test the moratorium in court.”

The ban is set to begin in January and would stop suction dredging near spawning habitat in creeks and rivers deemed “essential salmon habitat.” Wild salmon advocates say the process is harmful to the fish.

That would effectively ban the work in the Illinois as well as the Rogue and some of its tributaries. It would remain in effect until 2021.

The in-stream mining work usually starts in mid-June.

But Barclay said he's “not going to hold my breath” for a legislative fix and wants to see the state defend itself in court.

The mining consortium is also asking U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark D. Clarke to bar the state from enforcing the moratorium “so they can't continue on with their nefarious ban” until the lawsuit is settled, explained Barclay.


Information from: Mail Tribune, http://www.mailtribune.com/

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