Opposition to Mining on the Smith Gains Momentum

October, 2014

SEE UPDATE on this issue BELOW

The Red Flat Nickel Corporation has proposed to strip mine in the headwaters of the Smith River in Oregon. In June 2014, the company filed an application with the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD), to divert water from a tributary of Baldface Creek for testing purposes.  Baldface Creek flows into the North Fork of the Smith River.  If approved, Red Flat Nickel Corporation will be moving forward with phase II of development, a second round of test drilling within the watershed.

Strong opposition to the water application and the proposed mine has been expressed by the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors, the City Council for Crescent City, the California North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and thousands of private citizens.  Oregon’s Curry County Board of Commissioners declared their opposition late last year to a similar mining proposal by Red Flat Nickel Corporation in the headwaters of Hunter Creek and the Pistol River.

Most of the Smith River in California is protected due to the creation of the Smith River Recreation Area in 1990, however, a portion of the North Fork Smith River is in Oregon and remains unprotected and vulnerable to mining.  In 2012 the foreign owned Red Flat Nickel Corporation submitted a mining plan of operations to extract nickel, cobalt and chromium from National Forest Service land located in Oregon.  One of the proposed mining projects is an approximately 4,000 acre site known as the Cleopatra Mine Project, located southeast of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness within the Baldface Creek drainage.  Baldface Creek is a significant spawning and rearing tributary for wild coho, Chinook salmon, and steelhead.  According to the Forest Service: “The world-class fishery of the Smith River depends on the water and fish produced in Baldface Creek.”  In 1994, Baldface Creek and all of its tributaries were found eligible for addition to the National Wild and Scenic River System. 

The health of the Smith River and all living things that depend on it are at stake.  Hazards of mining and processing metals include toxic mine waste, pollution of surface and groundwater, plus air pollution from metallic dust and naturally occurring asbestos, a known carcinogen.  According to the U.S. EPA, metal mining is the most polluting industry in America.  This pollution would not only harm the fisheries and the livelihood of those that depend on it, but would compromise the drinking water supply for thousands of local citizens. 

Opposition toward the mining project has gained momentum with key state and local agencies joining the fight. During the public comment period in July, over 3,000 comments were submitted to OWRD.   Crescent City Council and the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to send letters of opposition to  OWRD requesting that the agency deny Red Flat Nickel Corp.’s application to use water for drilling.  Del Norte County stated in their letter that they “adamantly oppose(s) this application or any application that would result in future strip mining in the Smith River watershed.”  A consortium of eighteen environmental conservation groups representing thousands of citizens in California and Oregon opposed ”temporary or permanent use of water from any of these sources for mining activities (as being) not in the public interest”. 

Gordon Lydford, a Certified Water Right Examiner in Oregon, submitted a comment letter stating that both the long term and short term plans of Red Flat Nickel Corporation would “deplete a fully appropriated stream”.  He further explained, “the only (allowable) beneficial uses of water in the North Fork Smith River watershed in Oregon are for wild, scenic, recreational, fishery and other natural ecological demands”.

Complete protection for California’s “most sacred river” requires that we actively engage across state lines to defend that part of the Smith that runs through Oregon. 
Under the 1872 Mining law, the Forest Service cannot deny a reasonable mining plan unless the proposed project area has been withdrawn from mining eligibility. A mineral withdrawal will prevent the location of new mining claims and it would stop the proposed strip mine in its tracks.

Take Action!  Emails and letters can be submitted to State and Federal representatives urging them to protect the Smith River by supporting the mineral withdrawal.  Please visit the Smith River Alliance website (www.smithriveralliance.org) to see how you can add your voice to the growing opposition to strip mining in the Smith River and nearby watersheds.  You’ll also find several excellent letters of opposition from local government agencies and others.

UPDATE: On September 30, the day this issue of EcoNews went to print, The Oregon Water Resources Department denied the application from Red Flat Nickel Corporation to use water for drilling after determining “that the proposed water use will impair or be detrimental to the public interest,” according to the Final Order from OWRD.

Read more in an article posted by the Del Norte Triplicate.

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