Curry County Denies Instream Gravel Mining on the Pistol River

Pistol River Mouth at Twilight. Courtesy ORCA.

Ronald Adams, a landowner along the lower Pistol River in Curry County, applied to Curry County in 2019 for a permit to mine gravel on a gravel bar “presently being used for grazing cattle.”

The application was so simplistic and vague it was nearly impossible to make out what Adams is requesting. The application did not, for example, even mention the cubic yards of gravel he wants to mine from the gravel bar. The initial 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. 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.

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. Neighbors once again rallied, and vigorously opposed the new Adams project, as did Oregon Coast Alliance and several other groups.

The initial Curry County planning commission denied Adams’ application on grounds of it containing little if any of the information decision-makers needed to approve the project in so sensitive a project as instream gravel mining. Undaunted, Adams appealed to the Board of Commissioners, where he expanded his proposal to request gravel mining at four sites on the river. In January 2020, the BOC also denied Adams’ application on a 2-1 vote (Commissioner Boice dissenting). Under Curry County rules, Adams cannot apply again for at least a year. Meantime, residents and local organizations are continuing to organize and explore options to protect the eroded and degraded lower Pistol River — there are many opportunities to better the river that have the full support of science and common sense.

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