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Miner appears to not take trial too seriously

With a straw in his teeth and sunglasses pushed back on his head, Gold Hill miner Clifford R. Tracy served as his own attorney Thursday afternoon in the first day of a lively federal trial in which he is charged with illegal mining.

Cocky one moment then subdued the next in the jury trial expected to conclude today, Tracy repeatedly cited the 1872 mining law as his overriding defense while castigating U.S. Bureau of Land Management officials for what he believes is an attempt to prohibit legal mining through over-regulation.

"You are looking at a guy who has been trying to play by the rules for 20 years," Tracy said, later describing BLM regulations as "bureaucracy running amok."

He is accused of illegally discharging sediment into Galice Creek in mid-June while operating the Stray Dog mine that straddles the salmon-rich stream. It flows into the Rogue River about 20 miles west of Grants Pass.

Tracy, 39, said he would likely die before he received the necessary permits, and wryly added that BLM officials would probably show up at his funeral with them.

At that point, he would be "up above, hoping I could do one last poo," he said.

The comment sent a slight gasp through the Medford courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge Owen Panner who periodically admonished Tracy for his lack of legal decorum. The judge told the miner at the outset to remove the straw from his mouth when he was addressing the bench, and overruled his objections at least eight times during the first day of the trial.

Through it all, assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas W. Fong calmly laid out the mining regulations to the jury. Tracy, who was convicted of a similar charge on Sucker Creek in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in 2009, knew what he had to do to abide by the law, the prosecutor said.

The bottom line, Fong stressed, was that mining was perfectly legal when the miner obeys the laws of the land.

"Mining is OK as long as the participant follows the rules like everybody else," he said, noting the laws are in place to protect everything from fish habitat to water quality.

"And this is a part of Galice Creek which has critical habitat for endangered coho salmon," he stressed.

Tracy ignored requests by BLM officials to file necessary paperwork for the operation, then kept mining after he was told to stop, Fong said.

Photographs taken of the operation and displayed by Fong show a cloudy plume in the stream, a settling pond, Tracy operating a large excavator and a dump truck.

According to BLM officials called as witnesses by Fong, Tracy had filed a notice with the BLM in mid-February to conduct the mining operation on the stream about 21/2; miles upstream from its confluence with the Rogue. As part of the operation, he planned to drive across the stream at a ford about a half-mile downstream from the mining operation to bring fuel and supplies to the claim.

However, BLM geologist Diane Parry testified that Tracy did not fulfill the necessary requirements to move forward with his planned operation. Moreover, he had been informed both verbally and in writing to that effect, she said.

She and fellow BLM geologist Kirby Bean went to a mining claim 11/2; miles downstream from the Stray Dog claim on June 16 when they noticed the stream's water was cloudy with sediment, she said. They followed the plume upstream to its source at the Stray Dog, she said.

The next day they were accompanied by two BLM law enforcement officers who attempted to give Tracy, who was operating an evacuator, a suspension order to stop his operation, Parry said.

"Mr. Tracy chose to get back on the excavator and continue mining," Parry said.

During cross examination, Tracy, who was assisted in his defense by Brian Butler, an assistant federal defender, noted that he had worked with Parry using similar mining methods on other mining claims without any problems.

"Is that not a success story?" he asked.

For the prosecution, John Gasik, a senior engineer with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, testified that Tracy had none of the permits necessary to pollute a stream as required by state law.

In his defense, Tracy called Ronald Byrd, a miner with a claim adjacent to the Stray Dog, who testified that the ford Tracy proposed to use had been utilized by local mining operations for more than a century.

He also backed up Tracy's assertion that his method of putting alfalfa in the settling pond to keep the pond from "weeping" was commonly used by miners.

Fellow miner James Cobb, who worked with Tracy, testified that they had made an effort to keep sediments out of the stream.

Under questioning from Fong, Cobb said he did not know if Tracy had the necessary permits. However, he said a BLM law enforcement officer's attempt to stop the operation was not lawful.

"What usurps the mining law?" Cobb asked, then added, "I don't recognize his authority to stop us."

In the 2009 case, Tracy was placed on 12 months probation for his illegal mining, received a small fine and placed on a year's probation.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.