State Sen. Alan Bates claims his bill to extend and broaden a suction-dredging moratorium in place on wild salmon streams — including most of the Rogue River Basin — has died because of delay tactics from mining interests who insist the bill imploded from its own weight.
Bates, D-Medford, said he pulled Senate Bill 1530 after attempts to add amendments in the hopes of gaining bipartisan support ended with mining interests still opposed to extending aspects of the dredging moratorium in much of Oregon beginning in 2022.
The delays stalled the bill this week in the Joint Ways and Means Committee with no prospect for a hearing, let alone a vote before the session ends, likely sometime next week, Bates said.
"We were really trying to do this bipartisanly," Bates said. "But the way to kill a bill in a short session is delaying.
"I was naive enough to believe they'd sit down and work with us," Bates said. "I was wrong, and they kept delaying it until we couldn't get it out (of committee)."
Rich Angstrom, a lobbyist representing mining interests in SB 1530 negotiations, said the bill's complexity did it in during the one-month short session. The bill, for instance, sought to almost triple the area of streams banned from dredging by adding Pacific lamprey and wild bull trout into the fold and added upland mining to the proposed restrictions, Angstrom said.
"We were trying to find resolution to them both in 30 days," Angstrom said. "There were intense discussions, but we couldn't resolve all the issues and were timed out."
Bates said he will offer a similar bill for the Oregon Legislature's 2017 session and he will "run with it anyway," even if it does not gain bipartisan support.
"I think we'd have the votes for it," Bates said.
Angstrom said the industry also wants the dredging issues settled.
Suction-dredge mining employs a floating vacuum to suck gravel from a stream bottom. Materials vacuumed by the dredge then go through a sluice to allow miners to strain out gold and other heavy metals, while sand, silt and other fine materials are discharged into the water.
Wild-salmon advocates say the process damages spawning grounds and rearing habitat. Miners have argued that current laws already protect salmon and their habitat, and they have argued that no peer-reviewed study on suction dredging proves it ruins salmon habitat.
In 2013, the Legislature passed a law that severely restricted dredging by cutting and capping the number of dredging permits offered annually in Oregon, and limited some of the times, locations and manner for how dredgers operate. It was designed to protect wild salmon and their habitats and reduce conflicts with riverside landowners and users.
The law was written to sunset at the end of 2015 to give the Legislature time to grapple with permanent rules, which never materialized. That led to the moratorium in wild salmon habitat that began Jan. 2 and is set to sunset at the end of 2021.
SB 1530 was Bates' attempt to write dredging legislation for post-moratorium Oregon, and it sought to expand the restrictions to include all tributaries in wild salmon streams as well as those with native bull trout and Pacific lamprey.
If that standard were applied to the Rogue River Basin, the dredging moratorium would be expanded to include the mainstem Rogue and all its tributaries upstream of Lost Creek Dam, which blocks upstream passage to wild salmon and lamprey. The portion of the Rogue and its tributaries downstream of the dam already are included in the moratorium.
Before the moratorium, the dredging season in Oregon differed between rivers and followed the legal summer in-water work period to protect wild salmon eggs and young fry in the gravel.
Several miners filed suit in federal court in October, seeking a judge to declare the state moratorium pre-empted by federal law. The case remains open in U.S. District Court in Medford.