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California Fish & Game claims they need more time to complete new EIR on suction dredging; refund bill fails in Assembly committee

July 10, 2010

Fish & Game claims it needs more time
A public advisory committee (PAC) was created by California Fish & Game last year to meet with the agency and provide input on the new Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on suction dredging. The PAC included representatives of the small-scale mining industry and members of several environmental extremist groups. (PAC members from the mining community reported that the meetings were a waste of time -- the moderators maintained complete control of the discussion and prevented two former EPA scientists from presenting information on the environmental benefits of suction dredging and from pointing out the obvious flaws in the so-called science used to substantiate claims of harm.)

Some PAC members recently received a letter from Mark Stopher at Fish & Game claiming that the new EIR will be delayed. Stopher has claimed that more funds are needed to cover the costs associated with the PAC and to pay for surveys that were sent out to some of the suction dredge miners who held dredging permits in 2009, even though these items were already completed.

It's no mystery where Stopher's allegiance lies -- he was previously a habitat conservation program manager prior to becoming the interim director of Fish & Game.

It's difficult to ascertain the true motivation of Stoper and Fish & Game for trying to delay the new EIR. It may be that a suction dredging study is underway that will favor the agency's view that further restrictions on dredging are needed, and the agency wants to be sure the study is completed in time to be used to their advantage.

In the meantime, thousands of families in California continue to suffer. Some suction dredge miners provided supplemental income to their families with the gold they recovered while others relied solely on suction dredge mining income. And there's the hundreds of business owners and their families who continue to suffer when miners are unable to recover gold in our rivers and streams using the only economically available method and pass along that wealth.

We realize that a lawsuit will likely be needed to correct over-restrictive regulations when the new EIR is completed. Much of what we have seen so far demonstrates a bias toward restrictions and a complete disregard for the Mining Law. The question is, how do you think we can put a stop to these unwarranted delays? The sooner we can get the EIR process completed, the sooner we can get into court and correct what will surely be a flawed set of regulations.

Do you believe contacting legislators could help? Should we, collectively, attempt to get Stopher replaced, or would that just delay the process? Do you think demonstrating or picketing in front of his home would get sufficient publicity to keep the EIR process on track? Will the November elections bring some needed changes and legislators who are more open to restoring an important part of the California economy? We would like to hear your comments and suggestions. You can post your comments below.

It's possible that dredgers could be back in the water before the new EIR is completed if the appeals currently making their way through state and federal courts are resolved in our favor. Public Lands for the People is handling the appeals and the process is still underway, though the courts continue to work at a snails pace.

Refund bill fails in Assembly Committee; California dredgers shafted by Assembly Democrats Pt II
In the July issue you'll see part one of this article. In the first installment, we reported that Democrats in the California Assembly offered an amendment to reduce the amount of the refund issued to suction dredgers for the lost 2009 permit season by one-third.

After we went to press, the Assembly Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife voted against sending the un-amended bill to the full Assembly, killing the refund in its entirety.

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