Charging violations of the federal Clean Water Act, the Ashland-based Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center and another environmental group on Monday filed a 60-day notice to sue the operators of the Benton gold mine in the Whisky Creek drainage of the lower Rogue River.
The center and the Northwest Environmental Defense Center in Eugene plan to sue Dutch Mining, LLC of Merlin and Dutch Gold Resources Inc. of Atlanta. Dutch Mining was acquired by the Atlanta firm in 2007.
Plaintiffs say the mine operators failed to obtain necessary permits, discharged wastewater and fill material without a permit, failed to monitor and report discharges and illegally dumped mining waste.
Extensive review of public files revealed disregard for environmental laws on the part of both firms since Dutch Mining obtained an exploration permit for the site in 1994, said Lesley Adams, Rogue Riverkeeper for KS Wild, an environmental watchdog group.
"Companies are accountable for their impacts to the Rogue River," Adams said. "It is unacceptable for the mining industry to degrade public waters and salmon habitat through their illegal operations."
Both the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management issued orders blocking mine operation in 2008, citing violations of mining regulations.
Dan Hollis, the CEO of Dutch Gold Resources Inc., did not respond to a telephone call or an e-mail from the Mail Tribune on Tuesday. The telephone number listed for Dutch Mining in Merlin is no longer in service.
Originally opened in 1893, the Benton mine was closed in the 1940s. Dutch Mining reopened the mine under an exploration permit in 1994.
Whisky Creek flows into the Rogue about three river miles downstream from the river's confluence with Grave Creek. The mine is roughly a mile and a half up Whisky Creek at the mount of Drain Creek.
Most of the mine is on patented (privately owned) land but a portion, including the road to the mine entrance, is on the Glendale Resource Area of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
The agency issued a suspension of operations order last August, a closure that remains in effect until the owners either present the BLM with a notice of operations or a plan of operations, said Jim Whittington, spokesman for the BLM's Medford District.
If approved, a notice of operations is for additional exploration while the latter would allow for full-scale operations, he explained. The agency also has concerns about settlements ponds adjacent to Drain Creek, he said.
In Salem, DOGAMI, the state's lead regulator for mining operations, also has concerns, said department reclamist Ben Mundie.
"They are currently under notice of violation," he said.
Mundie said DOGAMI's notice of April 2008 indicated that the operators have failed to submit a required bond, infringed on the buffers of local streams and failed to submit required rehabilitation plans.
"They have requested a contested case hearing but never followed through," Mundie said. "We are working with the BLM to determine our next step.
"They were to have ceased operations last April," he added. "As far as we are aware, they have abided by that."
Adams said her group began noticing what she termed "turbidity issues" on the river early in 2008. The center's Riverkeeper program was launched to keep an eye on river pollution problems, she said.
Their research tracked the turbidity source to the mine, she said.
"It is private property — we did not go on the site," she said. "But we have done an extensive review going back to 1994."
The bottom line, she said, is that mine operations going back to 1994 posed significant threats to water quality and to the fishery in the wild and scenic Rogue River, including increased turbidity, acid mine drainage and water pollution from mining wastes.
"We're hoping the operators step up and fix the problem, but we intend to hold companies accountable for polluting the Rogue River," she said. "Our hope is to seek a remedy that puts companies in compliance as well as have them pay the appropriate penalties."
The plaintiffs are being represented by Erin Madden of Cascadia Law in Portland.
On its Web site, Dutch Gold is described as a developer and operator of proven gold mines in North America. In addition to the 480-acre Benton mine, it also owns the nearby 110-acre Gold Bug Mine, both of which include patented land as well as claims filed on public land.
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at email@example.com.