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Scott Valley Protect Our Water – POW – in Siskiyou County, California
May 1, 2012
PNP comment: Why in the world should the Superior Court of Alameda County hear this case? It should be heard in Siskiyou or Trinity Counties. Karuks and DFG harranges suction dredging, when in reality it cleans the gravels and the salmon like to lay their eggs there. Maybe the State just doesn’t want anyone finding any gold? Maybe State agencies think they own the gold as well as the land and the water? — Editor Liz Bowen
Posted: Wednesday, April 25, 2012 6:15 am | Updated: 8:46 pm, Tue Apr 24, 2012.
By Amy Gittelsohn
The Trinity Journal
Even as a moratorium continues to prohibit suction dredge gold mining in California waters, groups on both sides of the issue have sued the state over new regulations slated to take effect when the moratorium ends.
The Karuk Tribe, and environmental and fishing organizations allege the regulations adopted in March were not developed in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act, fail to mitigate identified impacts, and are inconsistent with existing state law. Through the Alameda County Superior Court they seek an injunction preventing the state Department of Fish and Game from implementing the regulations.
On the other side of the issue, Public Lands for the People and the Western Mining Alliance say no harm to species from suction dredging has been proven and the comment period for the new rules was inadequate. They ask that the new regulations be set aside and permits be issued under the old rules. Their lawsuit is filed in the San Bernardino Superior Court.
Suction dredges are powered by gas or diesel engines mounted on floating pontoons in the river. Attached to the engine is a powerful vacuum hose which the dredger uses to suction up the gravel and sand from the river bottom. The suctioned material is sifted in search of gold.
The new regulations were adopted in response to a 2005 court order resulting from a suit by the Karuk Tribe on the Klamath River — but the tribe says these rules are also inadequate.
The Karuk Tribe says dredging alters fish habitat by altering the contour of the river bottom and often reintroduces mercury left over from historic mining operations to the water column, threatening communities downstream.
“Until the moratorium was passed, gold miners were allowed to destroy our rivers, our fisheries and our culture,” according to Leaf Hillman of the Karuk Tribe. “Fish and Game will let them resume the destruction in 2016 unless the new regulations are dramatically improved.”
Suction dredge miners adamantly disagree that they cause harm.
“We take the mercury out, take the lead out,” said Elmer Reynolds, 69, of Big Bar. “We bury the big rocks and put the smaller rock on top.”
Fish spawn in the smaller rock the miners expose, said Reynolds, who has been suction dredge mining since 1993.
Reynolds mined along the Trinity River in the Big Flat area with his wife Gloria, 49, for years. It supplemented their income until the moratorium took effect, said Reynolds, a retired logger.
Reynolds said the paperwork is one of his biggest objections to the new regulations.
“Having to write everything down,” he said. “When you go to work, when you quit, what you’re doing.”
Furthermore, he said the reduced nozzle size allowed is not practical in the area of the river the couple mines because of the large size of the rock there.
In the 15 years prior to July 2009, when the state Legislature placed a moratorium on suction dredge mining, approximately 3,650 permits for the activity were issued annually in California. The new regulations will put additional limits on dredging, close some streams to the activity and cap the number of permits issued annually to 1,500.
In spite of the adoption of the new regulations, under AB120 passed by the Legislature suction dredging cannot resume until July 1, 2016, unless two conditions are met before that — the DFG certifies that the regulations mitigate all significant impacts of suction dredging and the Legislature adopts a fee structure for the permits that covers the program costs.
However, DFG Senior Policy Adviser Mark Stopher has said the new regulations will not fully mitigate all significant impacts, and no legislation has been introduced regarding a new fee structure.
The mining groups are also fighting to overturn provisions of AB120.