A Mining District is a federally recognized entity specifically authorized by the 1872 Mining Act, which states, “...according to the local customs or rules of miners in the several mining districts...”
We’ve reported on the success stories of several Mining Districts over the past few issues, and miners are beginning to realize they can utilize the power of their Mining District to retake control.
Mining Districts create a jurisdictional problem for federal agencies. These Districts were established long before wilderness designations, Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACECs) and the Endangered Species Act came into being. There are literally thousands of Mining Districts—virtually anywhere valuable minerals or metals have been found.
One recent success was the exclusion of the Slate Creek Mining District from a proposed wilderness area in Washington State. Another recent success involved the Rand Mining District in southern California.
Before I get into the recent progress in the Rand District I need to give you some background.
For several years there has been a Desert Advisory Council that has been establishing rules and regulations for a large portion of the Mojave Desert, which includes the Rand Mining District. Many areas have been placed off-limits or restricted, and these restrictions affect miners, off-roaders, campers and other public land users. One of the key tools in the council’s arsenal is ACECs.
Joe Martori has a large placer gold mining operation in the town of Randsburg, which is part of the Rand Mining District. He began attending Desert Advisory Council meetings several years ago, and he was eventually granted a seat on the council to represent mining interests. The council is represented by members of the BLM, the US Forest Service, environmental organizations, off-roaders, miners and other public land users.
It became evident to him the members of the council were ignorant of the laws related to mining and he took it upon himself to help educate them. Along the way he sought help from geologist Don Fife, Clark Pearson of PLP, and he brought me into the fold as well.
Clark, Joe and I made presentations to the council on miner’s rights, symbiotic relationships and the power of Mining Districts. My presentation included the fact that we at the Mining Journal have been advising our readers to serve federal officials with a Direct and Constructive Notice. The Notice lays out your rights as a miner and advises them they will be sued personally if they violate those rights.
We definitely got their undivided attention with our presentations.
As a direct result of our presentations, the Desert Advisory Council recommended a Memorandum of Understanding be put together between the council and the Rand Mining District. This MOU was recently completed. Signs were posted at all major entry points to the Rand District and part of the agreement stipulates that ACECs do not apply within the Rand District, and many of the roads and trails within the district that were previously closed are now open for the benefit of all public land users.
Along the way, Joe established the Minerals and Mining Advisory Council (MMAC) to assist other miners who have allowed their Mining Districts to fall into disarray.
Joe, Clark and I have been fielding many calls from miners wishing to put their Mining Districts back in order. In the past month I’ve talked with miners interested in getting their district organized in Washington, Idaho, Montana, Arizona, California, New Mexico and South Dakota. You’ll see a Public Notice for 10 separate districts (links below) in this issue and we provide these public notices free of charge.
A total of 38 Mining Districts have been re-organized or are in the process, while nearly 50 additional Mining Districts have expressed interest and are in the early stages.
The next stop for MMAC and PLP will be MINExpo International 2016 in Las Vegas in September where they will be contacting equipment manufacturers and mining companies to garner additional support for Mining Districts.
Huge Mining District Encompasses 13 Counties
One of the public notices is for the Mariposa Mining District in northern California. This Mining District was originally organized in 1851. At that time there were fewer counties in California and the original district was huge, encompassing all or portions of 12 counties. Other Mining Districts were later organized within this area.
So, what do you do if you are a claimholder within this area? You can certainly organize your own district within this area even if your district was created at a later date. In fact, we would highly recommend it so you can get your own “seat at the table.” In the meantime, consider attending the meeting for the Mariposa Mining District on October 11, 2016, in Sanger, California. (View Public Notice: Mariposa Mining District.)
PLP Assistance in Idaho
Miners in Idaho continue to face obstacles from the Idaho Department of Water Resources, the Forest Service and the EPA. Public Lands for the People and MMAC are providing assistance, along with Rocky Mountain Mining Rights.
Two miners were denied due process by the Idaho Department of Water Resources (IDWR). Both miners applied for dredging permits. However, the IDWR wants to issue them “recreational” dredging permits. This would put them in conflict with federal mining law—federal law does not allow recreational use of a mining claim. The IDWR also failed to coordinate with the Mining Districts, many of the IDWR’s requirements would materially interfere with mining operations, and the list of conflicts goes on. (You can view miner Ron Miller’s Notice of Appeal and Request for Administrative Hearing in our “MMAC & PLP Update” article in the August 2016 issue.)
Both miners requested an appeal hearing, but the agency failed to respond.
PLP is assisting Ron in withdrawing his application to the IDWR because they have failed to follow due process, and then he will go dredging.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is trying to coax miner Dave Erlanson into settling his case. The EPA claims Erlanson failed to obtain a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit because they believe suction gold dredging creates a discharge. However, the courts have already ruled (twice) that the material coming out of a dredge does not constitute a discharge. (Incidental fallback represents a net withdrawal, not an addition of material.)
PLP is also supporting the miners in court, and they are in negotiations with a local attorney with expertise in these types of cases to handle representation.
The current administration is receptive; we believe the time is ripe to push for a return to reasonable regulations and to restore mining to a priority for public lands as long as some new crisis doesn’t take precedent.
Casperson said he is not worried about businesses subverting the language in the bill because the DEQ would still have the authority to halt the new construction if it is deemed environmentally unsound.