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Oregon Weighs Price of Gold... and Costs of Mining It

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008   

Ashland, OR – Southwest Oregon is watching the U.S. Senate with keen interest today, as a Senate Committee debates whether to update the Hardrock Mining Act of 1872. High gold prices have sparked new interest in mining on public land, and this Friday is the public comment deadline on one company's plan to extract gold from Oregon's Chetco River using a method known as "suction dredging."

George Sexton of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center is no fan of the idea; he calls it destructive to fish and water quality.

"It involves scooping up the gravel and sediments at the bottom of a creek or a river with a vacuum-like appliance, and then having a waste discharge that comes out of the other end of the suction dredge."

The company's permit application describes a dredge as eight inches in diameter, and says it would process less than 200 cubic yards of riverbed per year, but doesn't say how many dredges would be used. The Chetco has enjoyed federal protection as a "Wild and Scenic River" since 1988.

People from 35 states have claimed the mineral rights on almost 200-thousand acres of public land in Oregon. Sexton says miners can pay as little as $2.50 a year for a claim, and are almost assured free rein to dig and dredge.

"It really is just a giant giveaway to private speculators, at the cost of environmental health and the public’s economy."

Sexton explains that updating the Hardrock Mining Act would not affect individuals who pan for gold or "rock-hound" as a hobby; rather, it is designed so that companies pay royalties on minerals taken from public land, much as is currently done with oil and gas exploration, and to clean up any environmental damage they cause in the process. There are about 140 abandoned mine sites in Oregon that the state has identified for cleanup.



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