Gold miner: ‘We’re a sleeping giant that’s been awakened’

Gold miner: ‘We’re a sleeping giant that’s been awakened’

EUGENE, Ore. -- A Eugene-based conservation group is applauding two Oregon Senate Bills approved by committee last Wednesday while local gold miners fear for their livelihoods.

SB 838 would place a five-year moratorium, or time out, on suction dredge mining in Oregon waterways currently designated as essential salmon habitat.

“It’s crazy to permit using a gas powered engine to vacuum up sensitive gravels in salmon spawning habitat after spending millions of dollars to restore the habitat,” said Cascadia Wildlands campaign director Josh Laughlin at his downtown Eugene office on Monday. “It really doesn’t make sense.”

SB 401 would bolster the state’s Scenic Waterway system by requiring a study of 30 Oregon waterways to decide which ones should be added to the list.

“This is a review and recommendation that requires the state to review and recommend updates to the state’s scenic waterways system,” said Laughlin.

Senate Bills 838 and 401 were passed by the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday night.

Laughlin said Cascadia Wildlands provided testimony in favor of the bills at a Senate work session last week.

Placer miners from around the state who use motorized suction dredgers to suck up river gravels to look for precious metals also gave testimony to the Oregon Senate last week.

“We’re not hurting nothing," said Cottage Grove small-scale gold miner Tom Pepiot on Monday. "We haven’t hurt nothing, and the science and facts have proved it.”

“We’ve got thousands of miners across the West that stood up,” he said, “and we’ve all joined forces to fight these bills off; and we’re a sleeping giant that’s been awakened.”

Pepiot and other miners from across the state held a rally in Salem earlier in the 2013 legislative session, protesting Senate Bills 115, 370 and 401.

SB 115 and 370 did not make a key legislative cutoff date passed last week.

“It’s frustrating because we figured we had everything set up and we were doing really well on getting these bills knocked out, and the next thing you know we turn around and there’s another bill popping up,” said Pepiot.

Governor John Kitzhaber’s office expressed support for SB 838 at a Senate Committee meeting on Monday, April 15. 

SB 838 and SB 401 are now headed to the Ways and Means Committee before they can be sent to the floor for a vote.

If passed into law, miners who violate the moratorium could face a fine and jail time.
 
SB 401 Link: http://www.leg.state.or.us/13reg/measpdf/sb0400.dir/sb0401.intro.pdf
SB 838 Link: http://www.leg.state.or.us/13reg/measpdf/sb0800.dir/sb0838.intro.pdf