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Judge refuses to grant preliminary injunction to end suction gold dredging moratorium in California

August 28, 2013

On August 28, 2013, the second day of arguments in this case, Judge Gilbert G. Ochoa denied a motion for a preliminary injunction filed on behalf of California suction gold dredge miners who have been prohibited from practicing their trade in California waterways since 2009.

Thousands of ICMJ's Prospecting and Mining Journal readers were anxiously waiting to get their equipment back in the water and recover the gold that will remain at the bottom of those waterways for now. 

Judge Ochoa found that the miners "did not suffer irreparable harm," said Jerry Hobbs, President of Public Lands for the People (PLP). Hobbs said he was "dumbfounded" by the judge's decision.

The miners were represented by attorneys David Young and James Buchal, who argued, among other things, that many suction dredge miners were suffering irreparable harm due to the lost income generated from suction gold dredging. About 75 miners showed up for the first hearing on August 27, and another 45 for the second hearing on August 28, at Rancho Cucamonga Superior Court in southern California.

Attorneys for the State Department of Fish & Wildlife countered that 80% of suction dredgers in California stated they were "recreational" miners when surveyed during the latest Supplemental Environmental Impact Report.

"No matter how much we have driven home to the public that they are not considered recreational, (some) still maintain that they are," said Hobbs. "But you know for a fact that as soon as they got on to a rich pocket of gold, they would not be calling themselves 'recreational.'"

"If you call yourself recreational, you lose those rights granted by the Mining Law," stated Scott Harn, Editor of ICMJ's Prospecting and Mining Journal, "and Judge Ochoa pointed that out today. If you establish a mining claim, and you are a 'miner,' you are afforded certain rights that were granted by Congress. There are no rights granted by Congress to those who use public lands for recreation."

In his decision today, the judge stated that since a large majority of the miners are "recreational" and they have already been out of the water for three years, they could continue to wait until the trial takes place, which he scheduled for May 2014.

Harn stated, "We all know that suction dredging is the only economically feasible method -- and the most environmentally-friendly method -- to recover gold in our waterways. We also know that there are a large number of miners who relied on suction gold dredging for their income. Even if we accept the 80% figure spouted by Fish & Wildlife attorneys, that means that over 700 permittees in 2008 were not 'recreational' miners. These miners have certain granted rights that continue to be trampled upon by elected representatives in California and by various judges. Even though the judge ruled against issuing a preliminary injunction, I look forward to seeing this farce being remedied at trial."

In the meantime, the miners will need to acquire the complete record for all the consolidated court cases. Fish & Wildlife stated the record amounts to several hundred thousand pages and is easily "the largest record in the history" of their agency. The cost to the plaintiffs (the miners) could be $100,000 or more.

"This is far more money than we could normally acquire, so if we want to stay in this case we have got to rely on the miners and the clubs to help us raise the necessary funds," said Hobbs. "By staying in this lawsuit and fighting, we do not know the outcome yet, but we do know the outcome if we do not fight back," he added.

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