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Bates proposes changes to dredge-mining laws

State Sen. Alan Bates introduced a bill today that he says will make "reasonable changes" to new suction dredge-mining laws set to go into effect this summer for two years while the state grapples with how to permanently regulate these operations.

Bates, D-Medford, introduced Senate Bill 1585 Friday seeking what he says are amendments miners and environmental advocates sought to a controversial law governing suction mining through 2015.

The new bill does not change this year's rollback to a maximum of 850 dredgers working Oregon's salmon-bearing streams, but it more clearly states, at environmental groups' request, how those permits will be meted out and mesh with other state laws, Bates says.

And at miners' request, the bill would allow dredgers to work closer together, allow them to keep their dredges in the water overnight and would make the new 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. window for dredging apply only within 1,000 feet of a residence.

Those changes, Bates says, would help miners with safety issues and allow them a larger working window away from residences during fire season, when restrictions ban equipment operations during hotter times of the day.

The proposed changes would not, Bates contends, reduce rules meant to protect river bottoms in wild salmon habitat.

"Basically there was some room here to make changes without altering the basic structure of what we did last year," Bates says. "It's nice to see both sides working together instead of yelling at each other.

"It's not a gutting of the (original) bill," he says. "From my point of view, it's a confirmation of the bill."

The bill, which was cosponsored by state Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, must get a quick and positive reception from the Senate and the House of Representatives to be enacted in this short session or it dies.

"If it's not out of committee by Wednesday, it's dead," Bates says. "Then we'll have to wait until 2015."

But at least one supporter of the new suction-dredge restrictions believes Bates' legislative fix favors mining interests.

"This is trying to fix a few things that the mining community was unhappy about in the new law," says Forrest English of the Rogue Riverkeeper Program based in Ashland.

English says he will ask to work with Bates to get a more balanced package of changes to the new law.

— Mark Freeman

Read more in Saturday's Mail Tribune.