[env-trinity] Trinity Journal: Court rules in favor of dredge miners

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Wed Jan 21 08:43:04 PST 2015


Court rules in favor of dredge miners
By AMY GITTELSOHN The Trinity Journal | Posted: Wednesday, January 21, 2015 6:15 am
Court rules in favor of dredge miners
A miner uses a suction dredge in search of gold along the Trinity River before the moratorium in 2009.
A California Superior Court judge in San Bernardino ruled last week the state has violated federal law by effectively banning suction dredge gold mining on federal mining claims.
Currently, there is a moratorium in effect on issuance of required permits from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife for the dredging, which uses gas or diesel powered machines to vacuum up gravel and sand from streams and river bottoms in search of gold. Miners have used the dredges in areas around the state, including Trinity County.
The moratorium was enacted in 2009, and state lawmakers passed legislation to keep it in effect until the DFW certifies regulations to mitigate all significant impacts of suction dredging and the Legislature adopts new permit fees to cover program costs.
With more to be ironed out, the moratorium is still in effect for now, said Mark Stopher, senior policy adviser for the DFW in Redding.
Judge Ochoa is expected to issue a subsequent order in the next month or so, Stopher said, “Then it gets complicated.”
“We’re not set up to start issuing permits tomorrow,” Stopher said. “If the moratorium is lifted and we’re ordered to sell permits we have some second tier questions about what kinds of permits we’re selling.”
Questions include whether the agency will use regulations adopted in 2012 or new ones, Stopher said, and how much to charge for the permits.
Also, he noted that Ochoa’s decision is based on case law after a miner named Rinehart in Plumas County was cited for suction dredging in violation of the moratorium. He was found guilty in Plumas, but a California Court of Appeals sided with Rinehart, saying an 1872 mining law pre-empts the moratorium.
The DFW has asked the California Supreme Court to review the Rinehart decision Judge Ochoa relied on, Stopher said, and the Supreme Court has until Feb. 13 to decide whether it will do that.
Furthermore, he said, it seems likely if the judge orders the moratorium lifted that the state, one of the tribes or an environmental group will appeal.
Ochoa’s decision was decried by environmental groups and applauded by miners.
Suction dredging “harms state water supplies by suspending toxic mercury, sediment and heavy metals,” the Center for Biological Diversity said in a news release. “It destroys sensitive habitat for important and imperiled wildlife, including salmon and steelhead trout, California red-legged frogs and sensitive migratory songbirds.”
Miners disagree about the impacts, saying they actually remove mercury from past mining techniques from the water, and no harm to species has been proven.
From Public Lands for the People which sued the state, President Walt Wegner said in a message to members that a settlement conference is scheduled for Friday with the intent of settling on “reasonable regulations that will not prohibit us illegally.”
As to whether or not to suction dredge mine in the meantime, Wegner wrote, “That, as far as the state is concerned, is still illegal. As far as the federal law goes, you have statutory rights to mine that cannot be pre-empted or prohibited by arbitrary state action.”
It’s up to the individual to decide, he said, but recommended that anyone deciding to suction dredge mine apply for a permit and keep a record of the date, time, location and name of the DFW official if the permit is denied.
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