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Opp Mine owners discuss sale with woodlands group

JACKSONVILLE — Owners of the old Opp Mine have approached a Jacksonville Woodlands Association officer about selling the 157-acre property to the group.

Until last year the owners had sought to zone the site to allow blasting and rock mining, but they faced fierce opposition from residents and the city, and were stymied by the county as well.

Bob Robertson, an attorney and business partner in the mine, raised the issue with Larry Smith, the association's executive director. Smith subsequently spoke with property owner Frank Hardin.

"We would like to seriously entertain the possibility of that group ending up with the land," said Robertson. "It seems like a natural with all the planning they are doing on the trail system."

The Woodlands Association has used grants and private funds to secure property for a trail system in and around the city. The association doesn't retain the property but conveys it to others, such as the city of Jacksonville.

In November, at Hardin's request, the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals ended an appeal of the county's land-use decision. The request to mine thousands of tons of rock and an undetermined amount of gold at the old abandoned mine site had been denied by the Jackson County Board of Commissioners.

"The Woodlands Association board has not discussed (a sale) at all. It's kind of an interesting idea," said association President Charlie Wilson. "If asked, we would take a look at it."

The board will await a more formal approach, which could be either a proposal or a meeting with the mine owners, Wilson said.

"One issue we would want to know is how clean is the site," said Wilson. "Are there cleanup issues that we would have to deal with?"

Hardin suggested a price of about $3 million, less than he estimates it is worth, according to an e-mail Smith sent to association board members and others.

"Anything that was done would have to be subject to appraisal and various other requirements," said Robertson. "Right now, with the price of gold, we are getting some serious inquires (from mining companies)."

Besides possible gold inside the old mine there may also be gold in about 100,000 tons of tailings (mine waste) on the property near a creek. Environmental interests would favor removing the tailings, said Robertson.

"There's significant amounts of gold in the mine tailings that can't be processed here," said Robertson. "It would have to be taken to Nevada," where a heat process to extract such deposits is available.

A trail from Forest Park in the watershed to town could run through the Opp Mine property, said Tony Hess, a former association officer and member of the city's park commission. Such access, however, would need easements from other property owners.

"Wallace, Idaho, made an old mine a tourist attraction," said Hess. "It might be possible to do that with the old Opp Mine with a private entrepreneur."

City officials are open to exploring the proposal.

"The city would be supportive of getting the mine property back into a compatible use," said City Administrator Paul Wyntergreen. "If they did pursue it, who would own it would be an unanswered question. We own property nearby in the watershed. In theory, we could, or it could be the county or a state park."

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboom8929@charter.net.