Chromite Mining Collapses on the South Coast

DOGAMI Aerial Photo of ORC Mine October 2012

In November 2011, ORCA, Bandon Woodlands Community Association and other local allies in Coos County filed an appeal in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for their actions in permitting chromite strip-mining in Coos County. Our petition to the Federal District Court was turned down by Judge Michael Hogan. To read Judge Hogan’s opinion, click here. We appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and unfortunately lost there as well. To read the Ninth Circuit opinion, click here.

We had asked the court to overturn Judge Hogan’s decision and require NMFS to do a full Biological Opinion on the project, and make a proper determination, from a science-based analysis, of harm to Oregon coast coho habitat. We also requested that the Corps be required to do a full Environmental Impact Statement that analyzes the project, especially its cumulative impacts, and feasible alternatives. But the Ninth Circuit did not agree with us.

ORC Stops Operations, Sells and Moves Out
Nevertheless, beginning in September 2012, ORC began a downhill slide that culminated in the company’s suspending mining and closing operations in December of that year. First ORC laid off thirty-one workers in September, citing weak market needs for minerals worldwide. The company also borrowed $5 million to fund its continuing operation. In October 2012, ORC’s parent company, IDM International of Australia, requested the Australian Securities Exchange to suspend quotation of its stock, due to ongoing discussions about future funding and production options. Finally in December 2012, ORC suspended mining and laid off all but fifteen of its core staff. The remaining employees were necessary to continue mineral exploration and to fulfill state reclamation requirements. In April 2016, ORC notified the Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI) that they were beginning the process of selling ORCs property and assets. They planned to sell all assets by the end of 2016 or as soon as possible thereafter, including the land.

Reclamation Requirements
DOGAMI is responsible for all reclamation activities required of ORC. Controversy arose in the fall of 2012 over the size of the mined and denuded area, which totaled about 25 acres, a combination of the South Seven Devils permitted area and the West Section 10 permitted area. The DOGAMI permit explicitly allowed only ten acres to be disturbed by mining at any one time without reclamation. DOGAMI’s interpretation was that “ten acres” included only the areas actively being mined, not those being stripped in preparation for mining, nor those awaiting revegetation. ORC promised to complete reclamation by November of 2012. Controversially, DOGAMI decided that ORC’s security bond was sufficient to cover the costs of reclamation to industrial forestry productivity. DOGAMI’s most recent inspection, in July 2013, showed partial reclamation efforts at the mined sites, but no real reclamation taking place. ORC collapsed and pulled out as of 2016, so the mined and denuded areas will undoubtedly remain as they are: barren, lifeless except for a little grass, and unable to support the native plant community of the coastal region. It is a sad, and frequently repeated, commentary on industrial mining and its disrespect for ecological integrity, water cycles and biological health.

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