SB 670, Moratorium on Dredging, to be heard Tuesday June 16

SACRAMENTO, 11 JUNE 2009 – SB 670 by Senator Pat Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa), requiring the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) to temporarily halt issuing all suction dredge mining permits, has been scheduled for hearing next Tuesday, June 16, 2009 before the Assembly Water, Parks & Wildlife Committee.  This bill, which passed off the Senate floor late last month, easily garnered the 2/3 aye votes needed to be adopted as an urgency measure, meaning it will take effect immediately upon the Governor’s signature.  

The Water, Parks & Wildlife Committee is chaired by Assemblymember Jared Huffman, a co-author of the bill, along with Assemblymembers Noreen Evans and Dave Jones.  If SB 670 passes, the moratorium on issuing permits would last until DFG completes its court-ordered environmental review and resulting overhaul of regulations governing the practice.  It is estimated that this will save the Department nearly $1 million in costs to administer a program that does not pay for itself, and allow it to dedicate saved funding toward paying for the EIR necessary to complete regulatory review.

DFG was ordered by the California courts to conduct an environmental review and rule change as a result of a Karuk Tribe lawsuit filed in 2005. The courts ordered DFG to complete the review and make appropriate rule changes by July 2008, but they have not met this deadline.

Suction dredging disturbs fish habitat, putting endangered species such as Coho salmon and green sturgeon at risk.  In addition, repeated government studies have shown that suction dredge activities disturb and mobilize the mercury left behind from gold mining operations. There is little credible scientific doubt about the impact of suction dredging in “flouring” mercury, nor the increased potential for methylation that can result.  Methylmercury has been a regulatory concern of the State for years due its known serious effect on human health. 

The bill is supported by Karuk Tribe, California Tribal Business Alliance, CalTrout, Planning and Conservation League, Sierra Club California, Sierra Nevada Alliance, Clean Water Action and The Sierra Fund. It is opposed by the New 49’ers and Siskiyou County. A full listing of organizations that support or oppose the bill plus the analysis of the bill can be found at this link:
For more information about the impact of suction dredging or about the impact of California mining, download The Sierra Fund’s groundbreaking report “Mining’s Toxic Legacy” at this link:

In related news:  On Tuesday June 9, the Karuk Tribe, represented by the Environmental Law Foundation, went to court asking that suction dredging activities be immediately halted in named water bodies until the court-ordered environmental review of suction dredge mining is complete.

The petition seeking a motion for preliminary injunction was heard in Alameda County Superior Court by Judge Frank Roesch.  Attorneys representing the Karuk Tribe, the Department of Fish and Game and some suction dredge miners made arguments for nearly two hours before a standing-room-only packed courtroom.

There was no ruling from the bench at the end of the hearing.  A decision is expected within the next two weeks on the motion for preliminary injunction.