Public Comment Invited on Environmental Impact Review of Suction Dredge Mining

SACRAMENTO, 11 November 2009 – In late October, the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) released for public comment their scoping document, as part of their environmental impact review of suction dredge mining for gold.  Public comment is being sought at three field hearings on the Notice of Preparation next week (see below for details).  Public comment on the document will be accepted until December 3, 2009. 

 The Sierra Fund has been involved in the effort to review regulations governing the permitting of this form of mining based on concern about the impact of suction dredge mining on mobilizing quicksilver, or mercury, left behind from historic gold mining throughout the state.  “We will be looking closely at this scoping document to see how they plan to addresses the water quality, fish and wildlife and public health impacts of suction dredge mining on mercury,” notes Carrie Monohan, Ph.D., TSF Science Director.  “We also want to ensure that the scope includes discussion of the impacts of suction dredge mining on tribal people and culturally beneficial use of water.”  TSF will be developing comments for this process, and will post final comments on its website for public review.

The “Notice of Preparation of a Draft Subsequent Environmental Impact Review (SEIR)” is part of a process required by a court order. In December 2006, the Alameda County Superior Court issued an order with the consent of all parties, directing DFG to conduct further environmental review pursuant to California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) of its suction dredge mining regulations, and to “implement mitigation measures to protect Coho salmon and/or other special status fish species in the watershed of the Klamath, Scott, and Salmon Rivers, listed as threatened or endangered.”  DFG is currently prohibited by court order from issuing suction dredge permits.  Additionally, on August 6, 2009, Governor Schwarzenegger signed SB 670 (Wiggins) into law, prohibiting the use of vacuum or suction dredge equipment in any California river, stream or lake, regardless of whether the operator has an existing permit issued by DFG.

In close coordination with the State Water Resources Control Board, DFG is working with a CEQA consulting firm to prepare a SEIR. Public scoping for that effort will occur in the Fall/Winter 2009, and a draft SEIR is anticipated to be available to the public in Fall 2010.  Any proposed updates to the suction dredge mining regulations would also be circulated alongside the draft SEIR.

Small-scale suction dredge mining activity in California, as regulated by California law, allows a person to obtain a suction dredge mining permit from DFG upon payment of a fee. On average, DFG has issued approximately 3,200 suction dredge mining permits to California residents every year for the last 15 years.

Public comment is also being sought at three field hearings on the Notice of Preparation next week. The scoping meetings will be held in Fresno, Sacramento and Redding. Members of the public can provide comments in person at any of the following locations and times:

Fresno: Monday, Nov. 16, 5 p.m.
California Retired Teachers Association Building
3930 E. Saginaw Way
Fresno, CA 93726

Sacramento: Tuesday, Nov. 17, 5 p.m.
City of West Sacramento Galleria
1110 West Capitol Ave.
West Sacramento, CA 95691

Redding: Wednesday, Nov. 18, 5 p.m.
Shasta Senior Nutrition Program Center
100 Mercy Oaks Drive
Redding, CA 96003

Written comments must be postmarked by Dec. 3, 2009 and may be submitted, either by e-mail to dfgsuctiondredge@dfg.ca.gov or by regular mail to:

Mark Stopher
California Department of Fish and Game
601 Locust Street
Redding, CA 96001

For more information about these meetings, the suction dredge program or to view the Initial Study and supporting documents, visit www.dfg.ca.gov/suctiondredge.

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