The U.S. Forest Service has already received more than 650 comments regarding a proposal by a nickel-mining company to drill 35 experimental holes near Hunter Creek east of Gold Beach.
The mining company, Red Flat Nickel Corporation, registered in Panama, is simultaneously working on a nickel mining proposal in the North Fork Smith River watershed, but there has yet to be a public comment period for that site.
To do the experimental drilling, Red Flat Mining needs water — about 35,000 gallons — from the city of Gold Beach. Mining officials have submitted a request to that effect; the issue will be addressed at a city council meeting next month.
“The city can say ‘no’ and we should convince them that saying ‘no’ is the right thing to do for the citizens of Gold Beach and the surrounding areas,” said Dave Lacey, who lives at the headwaters of Hunter Creek and who is active in local water quality preservation issues. “There are so many better uses for our public lands.”
Attempts to reach the mining company were unsuccessful.
He cited the deleterious affects of such mining operations on the environment and Gold Beach’s drinking water, and pointed out that Curry County is in one of its worst droughts in about a century.
“Wasting 35,000 gallons of good Gold Beach drinking water on the most polluting industry in the world does not make sense,” he said. “I also think people’s personal stories of why the city should be against the mining regardless of where the water comes from would be very powerful, too.”
The mining is proposed on 1,100 acres of land surrounded by two parcels of Bureau of Land Management land designated as Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, another parcel locals are petitioning to have named the Veva Stansell Botanical Area, the restored Hummingbird Garden, Flycatcher Springs and the popular Pyramid Peak and Signal Butte.
The preliminary decision memo indicates the company wants to obtain core samples on an existing claim. Drilling would occur in areas previously disturbed by mining, including trenches and four-wheel-drive roads, and the holes would be plugged and land restored “to its original condition, to the extent possible,” the memo reads.
It is unknown how many jobs the work could create in the area.
“When talking to folks in the area about the test drilling, they ask, ‘What happens if they find enough nickel?’” Lacey wrote in a letter to the Forest Service and federal and state elected officials. “Why would this corporation test-drill if they had no intentions of a full-scale mining removal? Is the Forest Service going to then halt the project — after test drilling but before the next industrial phase?”
Mining law that hasn’t been updated in more than 100 years places extraction industries — namely mining — as the top priority on Forest Service lands, making it nearly impossible for officials there to deny such applications.
That’s another issue Lacey and many others are trying to change by encouraging citizens to write their state and federal representatives.
Lacey hopes citizen input will convince the City Council to oppose the request for water and later craft a resolution against the entire project.
The Curry County Board of Commissioners last month approved an amendment to its code addressing and opposing the project, as well.
“The project … will cause serious negative externalities at the headwaters of the free-flowing Hunter Creek and Pistol River watersheds,” it wrote in a letter to the Forest Service. “If allowed … there will also be serious negative impacts to the surrounding area, restriction of access to popular recreation areas, degradation of the rare and unique botanical resources and health risks to residents and wildlife.
“The BOC places higher values on its citizens’ health and safety, the many recreational uses of the area and the highly-prized Hunter Creek and Pistol River fisheries … than on the foreign-owned Red Flat Mining Corporation interests.”