A Washington developer's plan to mine for gold on one of Oregon's most pristine salmon rivers has hit a roadblock.
GRANTS PASS — A Washington developer's plan to mine for gold on one of Oregon's most pristine salmon rivers has hit a roadblock.
A state environmental official has concluded it could be difficult for developer Dave Rutan to get a clean water permit as long as he wants to use suction dredges to mine the Chetco River inside the Kalmiopsis Wilderness on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.
Oregon administrative rules prohibit gold mining dredges from causing any increase in muddiness in rivers within certain federal wilderness areas, including the Kalmiopsis, or a 10 percent increase in muddiness in rivers designated essential salmon habitat, such as the Chetco.
The rules were cited in a Jan. 28 letter from Oregon Department of Environmental Quality Water Quality Division administrator Neil Mullane to the U.S. Forest Service.
Dave Rutan, agent for Chetco River Mining & Explorations LLC of LaCenter, Wash., refused comment when contacted by The Associated Press.
The Forest Service has suspended an environmental review of Rutan's gold mining plan until he resolves the issue with the state, Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest spokeswoman Virginia Gibbons said.
"This is very good news for the wilderness, and it is also good for taxpayers, because basically the developer needs to get his state permit before the feds should have to look into it," environmental consultant Andy Kerr said. "Just because you have a federal mining claim doesn't give you carte blanche to destroy wilderness values."
In response to a Freedom of Information Act request by Friends of the Kalmiopsis, a conservation group, the Forest Service estimated the cost of the environmental review of Rutan's Gold No. 11 claim at $431,000.
Rutan owns a 60-acre patented mining claim that is private property along the Little Chetco River within the Kalmiopsis, where he offers gold mining trips to hobby miners. He also owns three mining claims along the Chetco River inside the wilderness, and six more along the Chetco outside the wilderness
He has filed plans saying he would move 470 cubic yards of gravel a year with section dredges each summer work season from his Gold No. 11 claim on the Chetco, which the company website describes as the most valuable.
The Forest Service blacked out the estimated value of the gold within the claim when it responded to a Freedom of Information request by The Associated Press.
Rutan's mining plans have prompted a bill in Congress to upgrade Wild and Scenic Rivers Act protections outside the wilderness that would force claim holders to prove there is significant gold before mining the areas.
The prospect that suction dredge mining could cause an increase in sedimentation that would be harmful to gravel beds where salmon lay their eggs landed the Chetco on the American Rivers list of the nation's 10 most threatened rivers in 2010.