portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article reporting oregon & cascadia

environment

Good News for Rough & Ready Creek!

I'm happy to report very positive developments in the twelve-year fight to protect Rough & Ready Creek from the infamous NICORE Mine. We've just learned that the BLM has filed a formal contest/challenge to all 161 mining claims (4,360 plus acres) held by Walter B. Freeman in the Rough & Ready Creek Watershed, arguing that none of the claims are valid under the law.

In 1992 Mr. Freeman filed an application to purchase the Rough & Ready Creek claims for $2.50 per acre - using a provision of 1872 Mining Law. The same year he filed a plan to develop a nickel-laterite mine and process ore on Rough & Ready Creek. The final proposal involved not only mining and processing but giant ore trucks driving through Rough & Ready Creek or its tributaries at 17 different locations.

Undisturbed, Rough & Ready Creek's waters approach the clarity of distilled water. With the West Fork Illinois, it has the highest concentration of rare plants in Oregon. The mining claims in question include the Rough & Ready Creek Area of Critical Environmental Concern, the Rough & Ready Creek Botanical Area, the Inventoried South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area and many miles of stream eligible to be added to the National Wild & Scenic River System.
From a major highway in Southwest Oregon, one can walk a few miles across public lands into an ancient desert-like, wilderness landscape.

Over 5,000 citizens wrote to the Siskiyou National Forest opposing the mine and many more signed petitions. Local opposition was overwhelming. In 1999, the Forest Service wrote that: "Juxtaposed with the deleterious impacts of road development and mining in an area of incredible natural values is a mining proposal that is seemingly uneconomical and speculative." The decision required Mr. Freeman to demonstrate his mining proposal was a "reasonable and prudent venture" before taking the bulldozers to Rough & Ready Creek.

Instead, in 2001 Mr. Freeman filed a $600 million "takings" case against the United States, alleging that the BLM delayed in granting his mineral patent application and the Forest Service delayed in approving his NICORE mining plan of operation. Siskiyou Project and Mineral Policy Center were granted "friend of the court" status in the lawsuit. Our attorney, Roger Flynn submitted briefs arguing, as he had earlier, that the claims were not valid and did not constitute a property right under the Constitution. The Federal Court of Claims required that BLM determine whether the claims were valid.

After a 3 year mineral review, the largest ever undertaken, BLM's mineral report determined that all the Rough & Ready Creek claims are essentially invalid! The contest states that: "Minerals have not been found on any of the 161 claims in sufficient qualities or quantities to constitute a [mineral] discovery. Any minerals could not have been marketed at a profit as of either 1994 or 2000 ... The lands encompassed by the 161 mining claims are non-mineral in character."

Despite this good news, the fate of Rough & Ready Creek remains uncertain. Mr. Freeman now has the opportunity to challenge BLM's findings. The case will go through a multi-year "claims contest" fight in the Department of Interior's court system and then perhaps federal court. And, since the Department of Interior did not act on the Forest Service and BLM's 2001 proposal to not allow the filing of new mining claims in the area, even if the claims are finally found not valid, someone else or even Mr. Freeman could soon file new mining claims on Rough & Ready Creek.

While there's still much work to be done to protect Rough & Ready Creek, we need to pause, give thanks for the good news and reflect on this very special and unique place and the commitment of so many wonderful people to it.

We thank attorney Roger Flynn of the Western Mining Action Project for taking the case in its early stages, sticking with it for so long and for continuing to represent us.

We thank the thousands of citizens, both local and across the nation, who have worked long and hard to keep Rough & Ready Creek wild and free, and the many organizations and individuals who supported the effort.

Thank you.

Siskiyou Project

homepage: homepage: http://www.siskiyou.org

photo of rough and ready creek 08.Apr.2005 12:23

from Oregon Wild


more background on the story 08.Apr.2005 12:25

from the siskiyou project website

 http://www.siskiyou.org/swrc/mining%20issues/nicore_update_&_chronology.cfm


Nicore Update and Chronology
Proposed Nicore Mine at Rough & Ready Creek Sets Records for Abuse of Mining Law Threat of Large-Scale Mining Remains

The cost to the American public of Walter Freeman's bid to own thousands of acres and mine in the Rough & Ready Creek Watershed of Southwest Oregon's Siskiyou Mountains is mounting. The proponent of the proposed Nicore Mine has used the 1872 Mining Law to hold this beautiful, wild National Forest and BLM watershed hostage for many years and is demanding from the public a $600,000,000.00 ($600 million) ransom.

In 1999, the Siskiyou National Forest issued a decision that before Walter Freeman could proceed with his full-scale Nicore Mine proposal he had to provide the government with information demonstrating that there was a reasonable likelihood of a technically feasible and economical way to mine and process the low-grade nickel laterite soils found in the area. During the Forest Service environmental analysis process, Mr. Freeman consistently refused to provide the government with the information needed to adequately analyze his mine proposal. Now the government is gathering the information Freeman should originally have provided in a huge mineral exam, at a cost to the public of $700,000.00.
The mineral exam is the result of a "takings" lawsuit against the United States filed by the southwest Oregon miner in 2001 claiming damages of a reported $600,000,000.00. In the lawsuit Freeman alleges that the BLM and Forest Service did not move fast enough to grant him the right to purchase 4,380 acres of Rough & Ready Creek for $2.50 per acre and in approving his mining proposal, as per his rights under the 1872 Mining Law.

Individual miners and multi national mining companies have been using the 1872 Mining to remove free of charge, from publicly owned National Forest and BLM land, untold billions of dollars of minerals. This has come at great cost to this country, as mines are abandoned, leaving the public to bear the cost of thousands of miles polluted streams and the clean-up of toxic mine sites. Adding to the insult to injury, real estate speculators use the archaic Mining Law's patenting provision to purchase National Forest and BLM lands for $2.50 or $5.00 per acre and later resell the land for non-mining purposes such as residences, resorts or golf courses.
But the Nicore mine proposal is setting some records in the long history of abuse of the Mining Law. Freeman's proposed patenting of 4,380 acres of the Rough & Ready Creek watershed is the largest single patent application for a metal mine in the United States and the $700,000.00 mineral exam, being done because of his lawsuit, is said to be the largest and most time demanding mineral exam in the history of mining in the U.S. Moreover, if the publicly funded mineral exam finds Freeman's mining claims to be valid, the development of a major mine and/or the privatizing by one individual of thousands of acres in a botanically rich watershed and its beautiful wild river could be soon realized.

About Rough & Ready Creek:
Rough & Ready Creek is a 22,000 acre mostly roadless and wilderness watershed in southwest Oregon's Siskiyou Mountains. Special designations in the watershed include: Rough & Ready Creek State Botanical Wayside, Rough & Ready Creek Area of Critical Environmental Concern (BLM) and Rough & Ready Creek Botanical Area (Siskiyou National Forest).

Rough & Ready Creek and the West Fork Illinois River have the highest concentration of rare and sensitive plants in Oregon, out of 1,400 similar sized watersheds. In 1993, it was determined that Rough & Ready Creek has nationally outstanding botanical, geologic/hydrologic, wildlife and water quality values making it eligible to become a National Wild and Scenic River.
NICORE Mine Proposal/WALT FREEMAN Patent Application CHRONOLOGY

1992 - Walter Freeman files patenting application for 151 mineral claims covering 4,360 acres in the Rough and Ready Creek Watershed.
1993 - Freeman files a mining plan of operation to develop a nickel-laterite strip mine in the Rough and Ready Creek Watershed. The proposed mine included a BLM Area of Critical Environmental Concern, a Forest Service Botanical Area and the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area. Rough and Ready Creek is also a candidate National Wild and Scenic River.

November 1993 - Freeman files a second mining plan, this time to develop a larger mine. The Forest Service responds that an environmental impact statement (EIS) would have to be prepared for the mining operation.
May 1994 - Freeman appeals Forest Service decision to prepare an EIS. His appeal is denied.

August 1994 - Freeman files second appeal opposing the EIS decision. The Regional Forester denies the appeal.
1994 - Congress passes one-year patenting moratorium. Congress has renewed the moratorium yearly, through FY 2003.

October 1, 1996 - Forest Service completes a Surface Use Determination for the proposed Nicore Mine that states that the plan of operation submitted by Freeman "does not provide an adequate basis for conducting a detailed analysis of the effects [of the proposed mine]".
January 1998 - Forest Service issues draft EIS for the proposed mine despite the fact that Freeman has not provided needed information.

May 1998 - Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Or., and U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Or., and other Oregon representatives send a letter to U.S. Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck, asking that the area be withdrawn from mining activity.
October 1998 - Forest Service issues a supplemental draft EIS. Economic analysis concludes that the proposed mining operation and all alternatives will lose money.

The Department of Interior, in a letter to Siskiyou National Forest Supervisor, states that the U.S. Geological Survey believes it is extremely unlikely that these deposits are economically viable. The EPA raises similar issues.
January 1999 - Approximately 6,500 written comments and numerous petitions are submitted in response to the EIS. Only about 10 comments supported the mining proposal. The majority of the total comments were local.

August 1999 - Sen. Wyden sends a letter to President Clinton, asking him to help provide additional protection for five sites in Oregon, including the Rough and Ready Creek Watershed.
Sen. Wyden and Rep. Defazio send a letter to the Forest Service requesting that they order mineral exams to determine whether Freeman has a right to mine the Rough and Ready Watershed.

August 1999 - Siskiyou National Forest issues a decision stating that before Freeman is allowed to proceed with full-scale mining he must provide information demonstrating that mining proposal is economically feasible. The decision states that, "Juxtaposed with the deleterious impacts of road development and mining in an area of incredible natural values is a mining proposal that is seemingly uneconomical and speculative. The mining proponent has provided little credible evidence that the undertaking is a reasonable or prudent venture." Freeman appeals the decision.
October 6, 2000 - The appeal is denied by U.S Forest Service Deputy Regional Forester Linda Goodman, Region 6.

January 2001 - The Forest Service and BLM propose to withdraw from mining activity about 800,000 acres and 150,000 acres, respectively, in the Siskiyou Wild Rivers Area. The proposed mineral withdrawals include all federal lands in the Rough and Ready Creek watershed including the Freeman claims. Siskiyou Wild Rivers is an area that was unsuccessfully targeted for National Monument status.
January 22, 2001 - Freeman files a takings lawsuit in U.S. Court of Federal Claims against the United States. Freeman reportedly claims damages of $600 million, because the federal government allegedly did not move fast enough to grant his patent application and approve his mining plan of operation. The Siskiyou Regional Education Project and Mineral Policy Center attempt to intervene in the case. Intervention status is denied. Instead the groups are granted "friend of the court" status.

October 10, 2001 - The U.S. Court of Federal Claims suspends proceedings of case and remands it to the U.S. Department of the Interior for determination of validity of plaintiff's mining claims.
April 26, 2002 - Status report indicates money has been raised by the Federal Government to conduct the validity exams and a lead mineral examiner is hired.

May 21, 2002 - Under the Bush Administration the BLM and the Forest Service reduce the size of the proposed Siskiyou Wild Rivers mineral withdrawal, or area where no new mining claims can be filed. The Forest Service issues a new proposed withdrawal of 80,000 acres which includes only part of the Rough and Ready Creek area.
January 2003 - BLM allows their proposed mineral withdrawal, including the Rough and Ready Creek Area of Critical Environmental Concern, to expire without taking any action on it.

March 25, 2003 - Freeman files motion, essentially requesting that the Federal Court of Claims take over the mineral exam because the BLM is taking too long.
April 7, 2003 - Government opposes plaintiff's motion.

July 2003 - Forest Service indicates they will take no action on their second proposed mineral withdrawal of 80,000 acres because it is not a priority with the current administration.
August 2003 - Siskiyou Project and Mineral Policy Center obtain the Government's response to Freeman's motion. The response indicates that this is the largest and most time consuming mineral exam ever conducted (151 claims on 4,360 acres); the total cost to taxpayers of the mineral exam is estimated to be almost $700,000.00.

Late Summer/Early Fall 2004 - Projected completion date for the mineral examination by the Department of the Interior. Determination of validity of Freeman's claims to follow.