Conservation groups have launched an early effort to keep a Josephine County mining operation from developing a Sunny Valley area 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 far as 65 feet below the surface on a 210-acre portion of land between Shanks and Grave creeks east of Interstate 5 near the hamlet of Placer.

The water would be removed from the pit by sump pumps and used during regular mining operations, including dust abatement on a yet-built road and for watering a 50-foot buffer between the pit and the creeks, according to Havilah documents.

The groups claim the mine would inappropriately suck water from an already over-appropriated Grave Creek, whose mouth is the launch point for rafters and hikers entering the Wild and Scenic Section of the Rogue, one of the country's originally dedicated wild rivers.

But Havilah Resources claims the operation's design not only won't harm Grave Creek but it will 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. Water from those buffers would eventually find its way into the creeks.

That approach will help Havilah meet a local demand for affordable aggregate “in the most ecological and resource sensitive manner possible,” according to the company.

-- Mark Freeman