Tidewater’s Illegal Mining at the Millsite: A Final Victory

In 2010, Tidewater Contractors mined gravel illegally at the old millsite bordering the Rogue River off of Jerry’s Flat Road (see below), as a result of which Curry County refused to renew the company’s permit to mine in the following year. But in 2011 the company applied to Curry County again to mine at the millsite, and the Planning Commission approved the new application in September 2011. In 2010, Tidewater illegally poached gravel by the method of trenching–digging a long, deep trench to remove the gravel. They dug into groundwater by doing this, which was of concern to many, as the old log ponds from the millsite contain contaminants, and the two areas are hydrologically connected. In their 2011 application, Tidewater requested permission to legally mine by trenching. They also requested a three-year permit rather than a one-year permit. The Planning Commission agreed to both requests.

The Planning Commission decision was appealed to the Board of Commissioners by several individuals, the Curry Sportfishing Association and the City of Gold Beach. Gold Beach joined the appeal out of concern for its water intake, which is nearby; the City is troubled by the potential for increased sedimentation due to the mining. When the Board of Commissioners denied Tidewater the permit, the company appealed to LUBA. ORCA represented itself and the City of Gold Beach in the courts. Tidewater lost at LUBA in June 2012, and appealed to the Oregon Court of Appeals, which upheld the LUBA decision by “affirming without opinion.” This issue is finally laid to rest, unless Tidewater decides at some later date to reapply all over again for permission to mine at the site. However the hydrological concerns, and the City of Gold Beach’s water intake vulnerability, make it unlikely.

History of Tidewater’s Illegal Mining at the Millsite

Tidewater Contractors began mining gravel illegally at the Rogue millsite before they had all their permits–as Oregon Coast Alliance, with the help of local residents, discovered in October 2010. The result: a Suspension Order issued by DOGAMI.

The missing permit, coincidentally, was the 1200A stormwater permit required by the Dept. of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Tidewater received a Curry County permit to mine the millsite in 2009, which was unfortunately upheld on appeal. Tidewater always insisted that the site was above high tide, so that the required state permit would come from the Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI), rather than the Department of State Lands. Why does this matter? A very important reason: DOGAMI permits have no public process. And indeed, the strategy worked perfectly–Tidewater quietly applied for, and was granted, a DOGAMI permit to mine at the millsite, which was finalized on September 1st, 2010. To read the permit, click here.

Tidewater began mining in June 2010, even before their DOGAMI permit was finalized; but everyone thought the company’s DOGAMI permit was in good order. In addition, Tidewater knew they had to also receive a stormwater permit from the Department of Environmental Quality, but the company didn’t wait. It began mining more than a week before the stormwater permit even went out for public review, much less was issued. Furthermore, they mined down to the groundwater, and water filled a good part of the pits. That is expressly prohibited in their DOGAMI-approved Reclamation Plan. This is very important, because the old Gold Beach Plywood mill site and the log ponds are listed on the state Environmental Cleanup Site Information (ECSI) database. There are known contaminants there. The gravel bar, on the other side of Jerry’s Flat Road, is almost certainly hydrologically connected to the mine site. Mining down to groundwater may lead to further contaminants leaching into the Rogue, especially during heavy winter rains. Further, the City of Gold Beach water intake is just above the mining area, and could be compromised by contaminants or sediment when the river runs high.

DOGAMI issued Tidewater a Notice of Violation, requiring all mining to stop as of Wednesday, October 27, 2010. To read the violation, click here. But the company continued to mine on Thursday, October 28 as well. So DOGAMI issued a second Notice of Violation. This one required Tidewater to completely backfill the enormous trench they excavated with the same kind of native material they removed. They must complete all reclamation and Best Management Practices by November 8th.

In addition, DOGAMI issued a Suspension Order, which also requires DOGAMI to stop all mining at the site, including removal of stockpiled materials. To read the second violation click here. To read the the suspension order, click here. The Suspension Order is in force until the agency lifts it in writing. It specifically says,

“This Suspension Order remains in effect until withdrawn by the written order of the Department. If you fail to comply with the Suspension Order the department intends to take further enforcement action against you. This may include, but is not limited to…referring this matter to the Attorney General to initiate judicial proceedings as provided in ORS 517.880(3).”

In other words, the Attorney General’s office, at DOGAMI’s request, could have initiated legal proceedings to enforce the order if Tidewater did not abide by it. However, in March 2011, DOGAMI and Tidewater signed a Stipulated Order, which settled the issues in these violations. To read the Stipulation Order, see below. Following these events, Tidewater applied again to mine at the millsite, leading eventually to their final 2012 failure to gain permission for mining this gravel bar.

 

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