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MailTribune.com
  • Groups oppose proposed mining in Smith watershed

  • Conservation organizations are attempting to derail proposed exploratory drilling that they fear could lead to a nickel strip mining operation in a remote corner of southeast Curry County that has been proposed for federal wilderness protection.
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  • Conservation organizations are attempting to derail proposed exploratory drilling that they fear could lead to a nickel strip mining operation in a remote corner of southeast Curry County that has been proposed for federal wilderness protection.
    The groups are marshaling opposition to a request by Red Flat Nickel Corp. for a temporary Oregon water license for exploration drilling in portions of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest housing part of the headwaters of California's Smith River.
    The proposed drilling operation, which has yet to be publicly vetted by the Forest Service, is in a piece of the upper Smith River drainage inside Oregon and part of the South Kalmiopsis area pushed in Congress by the first Bush administration for designation as a wilderness area.
    The company has asked the Oregon Water Resources Department for a limited water-use license to draw 10 gallons per minute out of an unnamed tributary of Taylor Creek, which is part of the Baldface Creek drainage. Both creeks are part of the North Smith River drainage, which is a federally designated Wild and Scenic river, records show.
    Baldface and Taylor creeks are both eligible for potential federal Wild and Scenic river designation, but they are within one of the few areas of the Smith Basin still open to mining.
    The Smith is one of California's largest undammed rivers and home to wild chinook salmon and steelhead runs. It provides the drinking water source for downstream communities in California from Gasquet to Crescent City.
    Water-resources officials are taking public comment on the license request through Tuesday, including on whether issuing the license is within the public interest.
    "It's very wild, pristine landscapes we just don't know a lot about," said Barbara Ullian of Friends of the Kalmiopsis. "It's not in the public interest to have their drilling activity in a place like that. It's not."
    John Magliana Jr., who is the attorney for Portland-based Red Flat Nickel, did not return telephone calls Thursday afternoon seeking comment.
    The permit application states that water is required for mineral exploration drilling through fall 2018, but it does not state how that water would be used. It would be used if the company gained permission from the Forest Service for the drilling.
    The Forest Service has yet to launch an environmental study on that proposal.
    Conservation groups also have attempted to get the area completely removed from mining.
    "It's really tough to stop mining under the 1872 mining law," said Joseph Vaile, executive director of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center in Ashland.
    Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at mfreeman@mailtribune.com.
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