The long awaited post about Suction Dredging in California
Simply put…….Dredging is coming back to California Spring of next year.
Firstly, we know you are as skeptical as we are, after all, we’ve been told things over the past 9 years (like rulings from courts and such) which give us hope, but it always ended up being the same BS, delays, denials and shutdowns The small mining community donated millions to go to court, Brandon Rinehart was dragged through many court battles and that too we all donated to. All to no avail. The politicians and courts didn’t give us much to trust in their words. , they stabbed us in the back every single time. It was all pure politics and science was ignored.
Then AMRA introduced SB1222 and things busted wide open. We first of all want to thank Senator Stone and our small mining community for showing up, making calls, sending letters and getting the heck off their butts and being heard, it made the difference. To quote one of the Senators, they didn’t see that support coming. But most of all, our AMRA staff.
History and stuff:
California passed a law (signed by Brown in Jan 2016), SB637 and because of that and their right to “reasonable regulation” in the state, we must abide by it until things can either be reversed, or changed at the federal level. Some believe the state cannot regulate suction dredging and we agree to some degree here at AMRA, but what would happen if you dredged right now without the permit mandated by SB637? You’d have your equipment confiscated, you’d be fined and you’d be dragged through the California court system and found guilty based on the current language.
As a part of SB637 (The Suction Dredge Bill) signed into law in January of 2016, it was mandated that the California Water Board (CAWB) study and evaluate whether permitting should be allowed in the state, and if so, the CAWB was tasked with creating a permitting structure. We believe the sponsors of SB637, Izzy Martin and the enviro group The Sierra Fund, along with their Senator who brought the bill forward, Ben Allen, a Democrat from Hollywood believed the CAWB would toe the political line and just slow walk, or deny permits all along. SB637 morphed into a defacto prohibition on mining as it then labeled all things as suction dredges. High bankers, water pumps, track wheel chairs, trucks and even sluice boxes. People were cited, their equipment confiscated and fines were paid. We pointed out that this morphing of language was illegal, immoral and adversely affected 10’s of thousands of people. Kind of hard to say an airplane is a wheelbarrow just because both have wheels and that is precisely what the vague language in SB637 did. They stated “you can still pan”. As we pointed out in testimony at the Senate hearing on SB1222, panning is not, nor has it ever been a mining method. It is a final process, but not a mining method. Therefore, since that was really all they left us with, we made that argument, which was quite compelling that this is a ban and an illegal prohibition on small scale mining.
So the CAWB didn’t toe the political line as some expected. What happened is the folks at the CAWB who are scientists and engineers pulled the raw data of all the studies over the past 20 years which were provided to them by WMA (Western Mining Alliance) and decided to see if dredging was in fact harming fish or fish habitat. What they concluded was dredging was deminimus, meaning it doesn’t harm fish or fish habitat. Their Board of Directors voted unanimously it is deminimus (no harm). We attended and presented (on your behalf) at every one of the public hearings with the CAWB when the permitting was being discussed and we produced a pretty compelling video of the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) actively suction dredging in other states to “create fish habitat”. Let that sink in for a minute….other states are dredging to “create” fish habitat. How is it that other states dredge to create fish habitat, but California thinks it kills fish? Well, it is because this is all political and not scientific (like you guys didn’t know that…). So what happened is they didn’t take Craig’s word for what the outcome was on all these studies, they pulled the raw data and then over the next year, AMRA worked with them on a permitting structure and we did this quietly and behind the scenes. If you recall, the DFG created a nightmare proposal on dredging, the one we recommended was nothing like that. It was one that didn’t involve keeping a diary, waiting a year for a permit or costing 5 grand to run a 4” dredge while being limited to a small 20 foot area in a creek they chose. CAWB listened and while ultimately it was their decision on what permitting structure to go with, it is nothing like we feared.
Over the past week we have been in meetings, had calls and emails too numerous to list asking questions we know you’d be asking because hell, they are what we would want to know as we are miners through and through like many of you. Most questions we can answer now, some we cannot answer until late June when we have some formal meetings with the Director of the CAWB and a few Senators, but we are in fact going to be dredging next spring. It will be nearly impossible for the CAWB to pull back this acknowledgment that dredging WILL be permitted next year.
AMRA will be discussing this live all weekend at out outing near Groveland CA, it’s open to the public and it’s free. We will also be covering this in detail at our annual dinner in Chino CA June 2nd, see our website for details or the post below for the outing directions and times.
So, here’s the nuts and bolts:
Firstly, almost all of the equipment wrapped up in the vague language of SB637 is being reversed and will once again be legal and not considered a suction dredge.
High bankers are one piece of equipment we are still actively discussing and may involve a permit of some kind if run in the creek. We believe strongly since this is incidental fallback, like a dredge, it adds nothing and does not cause any adverse impacts on California waterways. Science should prevail, not emotion or how someone feels it might, may, could or potentially impact a waterway. Facts and science.
Permitting applications will be available in early Spring and we are shooting for the very first day of Spring which is March 20, 2019.
Why does it take this long, well this whole process was in fact ready to go last summer and the permitting structure was created, written and was ready for public comment, then the Director of the Water Board was replaced. The new Director, appointed by Governor Brown stopped all progress on the permits. SB637 had a mandate of 1 year for the CAWB to come up with a plan and they are now at 2 years, 4 months and 16 days. That is not just unacceptable, it is in violation of the law and we made sure they knew that.
What remains now in the process is the public comment period where they tell the public what they plan to do and ask for comments. We expect you all to provide input.
Cost: It is not going to be $2000 like someone posted on FB, that is incorrect. The permit costs we expect to be around $200 or close to it. They have a calculation where the permit structure needs to be 110% of the cost to do the permits so it shouldn’t be that much.
It will be an on-line application process meaning you go to a specific link at the CAWB and fill it out on your computer.
It should take no more than 3 or 4 weeks for the permit, but we are going to see if this can be sped up like the Ag permits farmers obtain routinely and rapidly.
The permits are good perpetually, meaning that you pay for the permit in 2019, then if you want to dredge next year, you do not have to re-apply, just pay the fee and go dredge.
I dredge multiple rivers, do I need a permit for each waterway?
No, one permit for the whole state.
Do studies have to be done for the creek I want to dredge?
No. There will be no site specific studies required for any permits.
Will I need to get a DFG permit like we did in 2009 in addition to the CAWB permit?
No. Department of Fish and Game, who is currently required to obtain a permit from……….will be eliminated. No permits will be required from DFG for suction dredging.
Who enforces this?
DFG will be the enforcement arm and will be the agency tasked with checking for permits like we all remember….although in decades of dredging with a permit, I never once got checked.
Do we have to keep silly diaries and all the other documentation like what was proposed before?
No. There are no after season, nor continual season reporting requirements like DFG proposed in 2012 like keeping a diary and all that nonsense.
There are a few things still unanswered like:
Are there restrictions on sizes of dredges and motors. We believe dredging will be handled like it was prior to the moratorium in 2009, but do need this in writing before making a statement.
What specific rivers/waterways will have a season, although it appears as it is exactly like it was in 2009. No dredging during spawning season (which we support).
The exact cost, although we believe it will be a few hundred dollars at most, not the $2,000 circulating on the internet.
We also do not know the specific regulations to a fine detail. However the CAWB has specifically stated they would like AMRA (Shannon Poe) to help them with the language and make sure the language does not encompass other equipment like the vague SB637.
So as you can see, this is monumental. We are going to obtain this in writing shortly and you have our sincere promise that we will be working with them daily if necessary. They have made these statements in front of two sitting California Senators. It would be close to impossible for them to back out of this without some severe exposure to a lawsuit….and bring one we would on your behalf.
We know you’ll have questions, and if we can answer them, we will, if we cannot, we will get them.