Update on dredging in California:
Yesterday we met with the California Water Board (CAWB) in Sacramento over the permitting of suction dredging for 2019 along with several other mining organizations here in CA.
This is the second meeting in the past 3 weeks and yes, they still do in fact intend on creating a permitting program for 2019 and intend to have the draft proposal out for the public comment process by Spring. That doesn’t mean it is all good news or all bad news.
We, along with the other mining groups in the room had some sincere questions about the program. Cost and regulations were at the forefront of our concerns as they will be applying the NPDES (EPA) permit to this program. We strongly disagree that suction dredges discharge any pollutants, and surprisingly the CAWB agrees, but still state an NPDES permit will be required because of the potential metals which “may” be stirred up during the dredging process. There are several court cases in which we believe, along with many others that clearly define dredges as “incidental fallback” and not a discharge of any kind of pollutants. For those who don’t know the “soup pot theory”, google it and the Supreme Court decision on the LA County Flood Control District case. The case boiled down to whether or not NPDES permits were required and the court coined the term above as if one dips a ladle into a pot of soup, lifts it up, then pours the soup back into the same pot, is one adding anything? The answer was NO and that is precisely what a suction dredge does. In fact, the process of dredging also removes many pollutants in the process effectively “cleaning the waterway”. There is no higher court in the USA than the Supreme Court.
The permits are expensive folks, thousands of dollars. Water quality testing would also be a part of the process, and while it would be relatively easy to do this, and most likely inexpensive, it is yet another layer on the death by a thousand cuts to the small scale miner in California.
They have been discussing in both meetings a general permit in which an association purchases one of the permits and it allows a miner who belongs to that association (like UPI, New 49’ers, Delta, Coarsegold, AMRA, etc…) to dredge under that permit and therefore the small miner would not endure the cost, the association would. This is an idea they came up with on their own and frankly it surprised all of us. Essentially, the association, using best practices and written rules would be able to have their members dredge under that one, blanket permit saving substantial costs to the small miner. Seems they understand the significant cost and how it would make it nearly impossible for a single, small miner to purchase one. As an analogy on an independent miner, we gave them this scenario:
A new 4″ dredge costs roughly $5,000. Comparing that to what my truck cost new, $40,000, it would cost me $40,000 to obtain my drivers license just to drive my truck to work. To make my living, to feed my family and to pay my bills. This makes it so onerous to obtain “permission” to mine your real property mining claim as to be yet another prohibition. Granted, driving is a privilege and mining our claims is a right, but you get the gist.
We did bring up the mining districts and asked if they coordinated any of this with the federally recognized entities. They had not and in fact had no idea about the mining districts. Jim Rankin, a mining district President was present at this meeting and concurred this whole process should have included the mining districts. This will be a topic for many mining districts and we all have strongly encouraged them to be contacted.
AMRA is a simply a voice and ear in the room, like Dave McCracken with the New 49’ers among others and we were all there to pass information on to you, the miner. We opposed, vehemently, SB637 and the bill which is destroying our rural communities. Drive anywhere in the Mother Lode and look at all the businesses going under. Just this past weekend we were at the Sonora Gold Show put on by Delta Gold Diggers and 8 of the businesses there last year are now gone. A miner is on the seal of California, the commemorative coin issued recently in CA has a miner on the back of it and a grizzly on the front. Perhaps it is a coin which shows once vibrant and thriving organisms which are going extinct.
SB637, “The Suction Dredge Bill” (passed by Ben Allen D-Hollywood) was horrendous and mandated the CAWB to study and evaluate whether suction dredging should be permitted. They (CAWB) believe it should be permitted, but government being government, we fear this will be very expensive, onerous and we still face one more hurdle in the form of the California Department of Fish and Game and their 2012 regulations.
The other very concerning aspect of this is: under SB637 and the vague language in it, many things are now labeled as a suction dredge. Items like high bankers, pumps, hookah systems, generators and even track wheel chairs could be considered as a dredge by an over-zealous DFG law enforcement officer. We’ve even heard one miner who was threatened that his truck, used to haul his gear to the river could be considered as a dredge as it “aids in the processing of material during mining”. So all this other equipment must be taken into consideration in this permitting process as well. We are talking tens and tens of thousands of people this affects in California.
Originally, we had heard they might be eliminating the DFG permit (the permit we all used to get prior to 2009 for dredging). This confused all of us greatly as we could not see how they could unilaterally eliminate the DFG permit. They can’t and aren’t. DFG is currently using the 2012 regulations and the 2012 regs are so restrictive…..limits the size of a dredge to 4″, restricts the time of year one can dredge (in some cases) to just a month, can’t dredge near a bank, some rivers (claims) are off limits and much, much more.
WMA, Western Mining Alliance, PLP, Public Lands for the People and a few others are/were challenging the CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) process in which the study which was performed for establishing the 2012 regs. If they win that appeal it would reverse this highly restrictive regulatory instrument and fallback to the 1994 regulations which are acceptable to nearly all dredgers.
Here’s the rub on that:
Judge Ochoa, the judge who basically reversed his opinions on the consolidated cases in San Bernadino is telling these folks they must spend tens of thousands of dollars to challenge this. Tens of thousands. This is what is wrong with our judicial system. We, the victims here must sell cookies, have raffles and garage sales to raise money to sue or appeal to the government that our rights are being destroyed or accept the blue pill they jam down our throats. They have an unlimited supply of money, your tax payments to them to defend themselves without fear of running out of funds. The Brandon Rinehart case comes to mind……
Can we get a fair court and judge in California who rules on the letter of the law or do we get an ideologue who ignores law, precedence and the Mining Grants?
It sounds as though settlement negotiations are on-going with these parties to potentially drop this appeal. If that happens we will be stuck with the 2012 regulations and have no other recourse to reverse them. Decisions and conferences are going on today by these parties to discuss the plan of action. AMRA is not included in, or a party in that appeal although we strongly support the appeal and their argument on how the study was performed incorrectly.
On a different note…
We must end the internal disputes among the miners. Division is what will destroy us. Miners attacking other miners is what the enviro groups love, we must not let that happen.
Don’t think for one minute we have put this on the back burner, we haven’t. We just aren’t showing our hand….yet, but we will and it will be quite surprising to many.
Please keep it civil and remember folks, we are all on the same team.