GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — When the construction industry went belly up and gold prices skyrocketed, Donald Bean decided to try making a living on gold mining claims that have been in his family since the Great Depression.
But a conservation group has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Medford to stop him, claiming he is ruining habitat needed by threatened coho salmon to recover from habitat damages dating back to the 1850s Gold Rush.
Lesley Adams of Rogue Riverkeeper said Bean's Reelfoot Mining operation on Sucker Creek — a tributary of the East Fork of the Illinois River near the Oregon Caves National Monument outside Cave Junction — has failed to get state and federal permits for pushing gravel into the creek and dirty water from his mining is flowing underground from pits into the creek, violating the Clean Water Act.
"Because Sucker Creek is such an important creek for wild coho, it is the focus of restoration efforts," Adams said from Ashland. "Unfortunately, the last few years it has really taken a beating from people doing illegal work up there."
Bean, a heavy equipment operator from Central Point, said he is in full compliance with U.S. Bureau of Land Management rules for the mine, and he is not mining in the creek or discharging any water into the creek.
"I'm definitely going to fight it a little bit," Bean said from his home in Central Point. "I don't feel like I broke any laws or have done anything wrong."
Sucker Creek runs out of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest through BLM and private lands, and is a prime source of habitat for threatened coho salmon in southwestern Oregon.
It was mined heavily during the Gold Rush of the 1850s, and logged heavily before habitat protections for salmon put the brakes on timber production in the 1990s.
Mining interest on Sucker Creek has renewed in recent years as the price of gold has climbed.
Gold miner Clifford Tracy was convicted of mining a Sucker Creek claim on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in 2009 and went to jail rather than agree to stop. He has since moved to a claim on Sucker Creek on BLM land.
Bean, 47, said he was in the construction business for 25 years, but since new home construction went sour, decided to go back to working the two hardrock and two placer claims claims that his grandfather worked starting in 1931. He plans to be his own attorney.
"The test I ran proved to be very good," he said. "If I'm going to chase a dream I might as well do it now. But it sounds like I'll be spending the rest of my life in a courtroom or something."
The lawsuit seeks $25,000 a day in fines for each violation of the Clean Water Act, a judgment for damages and attorneys' fees, and a court order telling Bean to stop mining until he gets the proper permits and complies with the law.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.