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Supervisors send letter opposing SB 670

By David Smith, Siskiyou Daily News April 24, 2009
Yreka, Calif. -  The Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors, in its April 21 meeting, approved a letter to Senator Fran Pavley in opposition to Senate Bill 670.

SB 670, introduced by Senator Patricia Wiggins, calls for a halt to suction dredge mining until the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG)completes a court-mandated environmental review of the activity.

In its letter, the Board of Supervisors states, “Siskiyou County is a primary location for suction dredging and for salmon spawning and rearing. The perception of conflict has galvanized opposition to suction dredging, an important sector of our local economy.

“Though the County has been consistent in its support of the miners’ rights and the current regulations that are applied to suction dredging, we did not do so without a thorough review of the literature and on-site visits to suction dredging operations as they are conducted under the applicable California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) Code.”

The board then states that it believes an environmental review will not result in any substantive changes to current dredging practices although it does “acknowledge that the public interest is served by the court’s action.”

SB 670 reviews the conditions set forth in existing law, which prohibit the use of a vacuum or suction dredge without applying for and receiving a permit from DFG.

The bill also details the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) provision that “requires a lead agency, as defined, to prepare, or cause to be prepared by contract, and certify the completion of, an environmental impact report on a project, as defined, that it proposes to carry out or approve that may have a significant effect on the environment, or to adopt a negative declaration if it finds that the project will not have that effect.”

The bill would add language to the Fish and Game Code stating that the issuing of suction dredging permits “may proceed only if the department has caused to be prepared, and certified the completion of, a programatic environmental impact report on the project.”

If enacted, the bill would require the use of suction dredge equipment to be prohibited in any river, stream, or lake in California until the director of DFG certifies to the Secretary of State that all three of the conditions set forth in the bill have been met.

Those conditions are: “The department has completed the environmental review of its existing suction dredge mining regulations, as ordered by the court in the case of Karuk Tribe of California et al. v. California Department of Fish and Game et al., Alameda County Superior Court Case No. RG 05211597; The department has transmitted for filing with the Secretary of State pursuant to Section 11343 of the Government Code, a certified copy of the new regulations adopted pursuant to Chapter 3.5 (commencing with Section 11340) of Part 1 of Division 3 of Title 2 of the Government Code, whichever occurs first; and [t]he new regulations are operative.”

The bill claims that its institution is necessary because the DFG is believed to be issuing permits in violation of a court order and CEQA.

The court order, resulting from the Karuk Tribe of California, vs. the California Department of Fish and Game, was issued in 2006 and ordered DFG to complete its environmental review within 18 months of the judgement.

The board, in its letter, makes an appeal based on the effects it believes halting dredge mining will have on the local economy, which has seen unemployment rise to 18 percent, according to the California Employment Development Department.

The board claims that there is an “overwhelming body”of scientific evidence showing that suction dredging has little impact on fish and states that it supports the continuance of the issuance of suction dredging permits until the environmental review is completed.

In conclusion, the board states, “We feel it is incumbent upon this Committee to support the DFG in its oversight of this activity as well as its ability to produce a definitive environmental review that will inform the regulatory process.

“The miners, too, deserve the fair treatment mandated by the California legal system rather than the imposition of a legislative short-circuit into the process.”

The hearing on SB 670 is slated to take place on Tuesday, April 28. Along with the letter, the board also approved District 5 Supervisor Marcia Armstrong’s appearance and testimony at the hearing.
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