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Dead in the water?

A state legislator hopes the Oregon House will pass a permanent ban on suction dredging in Western Oregon's wild salmon habitat that was championed by the late Democratic Sen. Alan Bates.

A "log jam" of bills sent to the House floor caused a vote on Senate Bill 3 to be bumped five straight times, and it is scheduled again for Monday morning for consideration, according to the Legislature's bill tracking website.

"There's just this log jam of legislation at this point in the session, and really it has nothing to do with the bill," said Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland. "Without any extra time scheduled yet, we get about a half-hour to do bills.

"I'm optimistic that we'll get to it (this) week," said Marsh, who was elected to Bates' former seat last fall.

The bill passed the Senate 21-9 last month, with Sen. Alan DeBoer, R-Ashland, voting in favor and Sen. Herman Baertschiger, R-Grants Pass, opposed. It has been approved by the House Energy and Environment Committee and if passed by the full House, will go to Gov. Kate Brown for signing into law.

The bill would ban suction dredging within wild salmon and steelhead spawning habitat in creeks and rivers deemed "essential salmon habitat." That would effectively ban suction dredges in the Illinois River, the Rogue River and its tributaries below Lost Creek Lake, and the Applegate River and its tributaries below Applegate Lake.

The bill also bans dredging in habitat of Pacific lamprey, which are also present in the Rogue Basin.

The bill would repeal and replace the current moratorium on suction-dredge mining in salmon habitat that is set to expire in 2021.

Bates pushed a nearly identical bill in the 2016 session that died in the Senate Ways and Means Committee and never had a full Senate vote, making this iteration of the bill the strongest supported effort.

Bates died in August of an apparent heart attack at age 71.

Suction-dredge mining employs a floating vacuum to suck gravel from a stream bottom. Materials vacuumed by the dredge then go through a sluice to allow miners to strain out gold and other heavy metals, while sand, silt and other fine materials are discharged into the water.

Wild-salmon advocates say the process damages spawning grounds and rearing habitat. Miners have argued that current laws already protect salmon and their habitat, and they have argued that no peer-reviewed study on suction dredging proves it ruins salmon habitat.

In 2013, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 838, which detailed new dredging restrictions, capped the number of dredging permits offered annually in Oregon and limited some of the times, locations and manner for how dredgers operate. It was designed to sunset at the end of 2015 to give the Legislature time to grapple with permanent rules, which never materialized.

That same bill included the current five-year dredging moratorium, which would expire in 2018 if is not extended or made permanent.

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtfribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

Perry Allen examines some trash his dredge pulled from the bottom of the Rogue River. A measure scheduled to be voted on in the Oregon House Monday would ban suction dredging in wild-salmon streams in western Oregon. [2014 Mail Tribune File Photo]