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Gravel mining in Chetco uncertain

Companies such as Freeman Rock and Tidewater Contractors have been mining gravel regularly from the Chetco River for decades. (WesCom News Service photo).
Companies such as Freeman Rock and Tidewater Contractors have been mining gravel regularly from the Chetco River for decades. (WesCom News Service photo).

By Valliant Corley

WesCom News Service

BROOKINGS – Local rock companies should know by the end of May whether they will be able to take gravel from the Chetco River this year, Bill Yocum of Freeman Rock said.

"If there's plenty of gravel in the river, they'll issue a temporary permit," Yocum said.

The various state and federal agencies that regulate the rivers have agreed to study the Chetco to determine whether it is suitable to harvest gravel. Their decision could affect the amount of building material available in Del Norte and Curry counties.

This month, a geomorthologist, the only one in Oregon, will be looking at the Chetco.

"She's the one making the recommendation," Yocum said. "Fisheries biologists and others are feeding her information, and she will float the river. Then she will make a preliminary decision."

The team making the recommendation is made up of the Corps of Engineers, the state, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and the National Marine Fisheries Service. Yocum said they will be looking at the short term and the long term and monitoring in between.

"For the short term, it's taking all the existing information that has to do with the Chetco, all of the stuff from day one we have on the river's history and they'll look at that," he said. "They're looking at the entire river system, instead of the operator individually."

For the long term, Yocum said the team will be dealing with a gravel budget.

"That'll set some hard number," he said. "Under these conditions, that's what you can remove and so forth,"Yocum said.

Yocum said he suspects that a permit will be issued for this year.

"Different people have different perceptions," Yocum said. "All I know is there's a lot of gravel in this river. You don't see much bedrock."

He said it doesn't look like much mining will occur on the Rogue River this year.

"Right now, we don't have a permit from the Corps on the Rogue," he said. "The Corps hasn't been focusing much on it."

Gravel company Tidewater Contractors had hoped to get permission from the Port of Gold Beach to take gravel from the mouth area of the Rogue River but, during the discussion, Bill McNair discovered shortly before a public meeting that the port ordinance prohibited it, Port Manager Don Flynn said.

"He found that in our port ordinances was one that states rock and gravel can be taken from gravel bars for personal use, but not for commercial use," Flynn said. "That put a stop to scalping."

Tidewater had proposed collecting some gravel with an end loader and a couple of dump trucks.

Gravel and rock have migrated down the Rogue and settled under the bridge.

"The main part of the river is getting shallow," Flynn said. "I'' talking about up and under the bridge and it appears above the bridge, too. Clean out the river for navigation and you'll have rock to sell. The general feeling is it will be at least a year before a permit can be obtained."

Robert Elayer, Tidewater safety administrator and geologist, said the public was "pretty much against upriver extraction and in favor of dredging the mouth of the river under the bridge and estuary."

The Corps of Engineers and State Lands are concentrating on the Chetco River this year, he said.

The river gravel is needed in the area, Elayer said.

"The river gravel is something we can't get from upland sources," Elayer said. "They're good for bare rock, but there's too much clay for asphalt. If we go to the river, it keeps our costs down and it's a much better quality of rock."

Elayer said that if mining on the Chetco is allowed this year, "they're talking about mid-August probably before we will be able to mine. It's late for the Brookings bar site. It depends on the Chinook – the salmon runs."

Tidewater has quite a bit of gravel stockpiled at Gold Beach, Ore., he said, but hauling is costly.

Yocum said the activity on the Chetco is due to all the letters and correspondence going to Oregon's congressional delegation and the various agencies.

"There's a lot of letters and a lot of calls," Yocum said. "They've all done a lot. It's not because of Freeman or Tidewater, it's the community. We've only got the two major companies, sand and gravel. Our basic industry is the construction industry in the community."

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