Conservation groups have launched an early effort to keep a Josephine County mining operation from developing an open-pit aggregate mine along the upper reaches of a Rogue River tributary.
Havilah Resources of Grants Pass wants to build a 126-acre mine and excavate minerals as deep as 65 feet below the surface on a 210-acre property between Shanks and Grave creeks. The site is east of Interstate 5 near the hamlet of Placer in the Sunny Valley area.
The water would be removed from the pit by sump pumps and used during regular mining operations, including dust abatement on a yet-to-be-built road and for watering 50-foot buffers between the pit and the creeks, according to Havilah Resources documents.
The groups claim the mine would remove water from an already over-appropriated Grave Creek, whose mouth at the Rogue River is the launch point for rafters and hikers entering the Wild and Scenic Section of the Rogue, one of the country's oldest designated wild rivers.
Doing so would harm the Rogue's wild salmon and steelhead, including threatened coho salmon, while further reducing Grave Creek's already limited water quality and flow — particularly during hot summer months, the groups claim.
"We're talking about a creek that many years doesn't have any water to spare and (this is) definitely not what it needs," said Jim McCarthy of WaterWatch of Oregon, one of three groups that have filed papers against the project.
"It's an iconic creek in a very special part of Oregon," McCarthy said.
But Havilah Resources say the operation's design not only wouldn't harm Grave Creek but would actually boost its low summer flows.
Special "bio-filtration trenches" that will use organic matter to filter the mine's water will also help create a groundwater buffer between the mine and the creeks, according to Havilah Resources. Water from those buffers would eventually find its way into the creeks.
That approach will help Havilah Resources meet a local demand for affordable aggregate "in the most ecological and resource sensitive manner possible," according to the company.
Ralph Christensen from Eugene-based EGR and Associates, which is representing Havilah Resources, could not be reached for comment Friday.
McCarthy said conservation groups aren't buying that open-pit mining so close to Grave Creek would not have negative impacts.
"They claim that it's going to have benefits but they'll be excavating gravel very close to a creek with flow problems," McCarthy said.
The details of Havilah Resources' plans are outlined in an Aug. 31 application for a Limited Water Use License and for a water right of 8.45 cubic feet per second, or 3,793 gallons per minute, of groundwater.
The short-term, limited-use license would be a "bridge" to fuel the mine's water needs until the permanent groundwater right is issued, according to Havilah Resources' application to the Oregon Water Resources Department.
WaterWatch, along with the groups Oregon Wild and Rogue Riverkeeper, sent water resources officials a letter Thursday outlining their objections to the license application. They include that issuing the license would allow the company to take water outside the time of year when Grave Creek water can be withdrawn legally for mining.
Havilah Resources has yet to apply for a land-use permit from Josephine County for the mine, stating in its application that the county is reviewing a "pre-application" for mining.
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at email@example.com.