Instream Gravel Mining on the Pistol River – Again

Pistol River Mouth at Twilight. Courtesy ORCA.

Ronald Adams, a landowner along the lower Pistol River in Curry County, applied to Curry County for a permit to mine gravel on a gravel bar “presently being used for grazing cattle.”

The application is so simplistic and vague it is nearly impossible to make out what Adams is requesting. The application does not, for example, even mention the cubic yards of gravel he wants to mine from the gravel bar. The one-page narrative, by way of explaining how the proposal complies with ordinances and will benefit the river, says, “The impact of this operation should be mostly positive. The Waterway of this area of pistol River has been in disarray for many years….We will work with fish and wildlife to make improvements whenever possible. We Can’t solve all problems but with the help of odf&w everything I plan on doing will be a win-win. Again anything we do will be an improvement over the way it is now.” [Spelling and grammar as in the original].

This area of the lower Pistol is highly eroded and abraded, thanks to poor riparian stewardship practices of many landowners, plus the watershed-scale problems of road-building, timber-cutting and agriculture, all of which contribute to the sediment load.

Any application for instream mining in a river – which is highly sensitive, and will affect salmon use of the river as well as the river’s own structure – must include studies of the river’s existing gravel budget, its flow and channels, and its fish migration patterns. The Adams application contains none of this information. Though the Forest Service did a watershed assessment in 1998 and the local watershed council completed an Action Plan in 2001, Adams referenced neither of them, nor tried, even half-heartedly, to configure his gravel-mining proposal to existing watershed knowledge or restoration needs.

The Pistol watershed was extensively logged in the 1920-30s, and again thirty years later, and both times led to extensive erosion, turbidity and sedimentation. Historically, some of the tributaries were very productive for salmon and steelhead, and the Pistol still contains populations of Threatened SONC coho. The recovery plan mentions key limiting stresses as lack of floodplain/channel structure and degraded riparian forest conditions.

Adams’ insupportably vague and sloppy application to scoop gravel out of a large gravel bar in a highly eroded section of the river will certainly not assist in restoring the Pistol’s beauty, resilience and salmon populations.

Neighbors fended off a threatening proposal by Tidewater Contractors in 2003 to mine some 50,000 cubic yards of gravel in this location, and place an asphalt/concrete batch plant nearby. Though the Adams application does not include an asphalt plant, its very vagueness makes future possibilities the more alarming. Neighbors are vigorously opposing this project, as is Oregon Coast Alliance.

The initial Curry County planning commission hearing was held in June 2019. The final decision will be made in late July.

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