A homegrown movement to protect the clear waters and wild rivers of Oregon's Kalmiopsis - Wild Rivers Coast

New nickel mine proposed at Rough and Ready Creek

Rough and Ready Creek is again threatened by a major nickel mine. Called the RNR Mine Project, it’s similar to the Nicore proposal of the 1990s, only now it includes the construction of a nickel processing facility at the Rough and Ready Creek Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC).

The proposed RNR Mine is located on lands managed by the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest and the Medford District Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Southwest Oregon.  The area includes: The BLM Rough and Ready Creek ACEC, the Forest Service Rough and Ready Creek Botanical Area, the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area, Rough and Ready Creek, a Forest Service eligible Wild and Scenic River and the Forest Service’s proposed addition to the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, as recommended in 2004 by then Secretary of Agriculture Ann Venneman.

The RNR Mine plans to construct its haul route through the Rough and Ready Creek ACEC and Botanical Area. According to maps, it would go across a steep slope above the creek near where members of David Rains Wallace nature writing class are standing on the far bank.

Out of the thousands of comments received by the Forest Service opposing the Nicore nickel mine in the 1990’s, only about ten supported any mining at Rough and Ready Creek. Most of the opposition was local or from Oregon, Washington and California. Many opponents were neighbors of Rough and Ready Creek or used its public lands to teach botany, or to hike, ride horses, photograph or study nature. Area children and those from the church camp along its banks spent long summer days at the creek’s epic swimming holes. The public’s love for the area and for the amenties it provided was evident by the crowd size and sentiments expressed at the local public meetings.

According to the BLM, the Nicore Mine proponent said the layout of the facility to process the Rough and Ready Creek nickel laterites would be similar to the Doniambo Smelter. See P. 12-2.

Under its policy, the Forest Service couldn’t deny Nicore the right to mine.  But in 1999, the agency found that Nicore’s mining plan was incomplete and that full scale mining was not reasonable without a facility to process the mined material. So the Forest Service approved the removal of a bulk sample of laterite soil at Rough and Ready Creek in order to give the proponent a chance to provide information needed before approving full scale mining. The reason given was that,

“… the economic and operational uncertainties were too great, compared to the extremely high scientific, social, and ecological values that would be placed at risk.”

Most people believe the Nicore Mine Proposal was defeated at that point. To the uninitiated, the awful grip the 1872 Mining Law—written when Andrew Jackson was President and still in effect today— has on public lands and rivers is hard to fathom—especially when the impacts of the mining are so destructive and irreversible. The Nicore mine proponent was just getting started.

This 2012 Google earth image shows a fraction of the mine waste stored at the now closed Glenbrook nickel smelter at Riddle, Oregon and part of the old holding ponds.

Rather than directly challenging the Forest Service decision, in 2001, he filed a 5th Amendment “takings” lawsuit against the United States of America—reportedly for $600 million in damages. In 2003, the Christian Science Monitor wrote:

In fact, says Richard Stephens, Freeman’s lawyer, his client would just as soon take the money as bulldoze the land for its minerals. It’s a clear case of government regulators “taking” Freeman’s property, he says – property in the form of a legal right to reap the economic benefit of valuable minerals on federal land.

“Our view is that these things would make money immediately,” says Mr. Stephens. Should he succeed, it would be the largest-ever such settlement.

Read the full Christian Scenic Monitor article.

But did Nicore have the legal right to mine at Rough and Ready Creek and would the mine have made money “immediately?” Not according to the BLM and Department of Interior in one of the most extensive and expensive mineral examations ever conducted on National Forest and BLM land. We get into the details in later posts but here are a few key events since 2001:

  • In 2005, the ~ 5,000 acre Nicore/Rough and Ready Creek claim group was found not to be “mineral in character” by the BLM. The claim therefore were not valid under the 1872 Mining and the BLM asked that the claims be declared null and void.
  • In 2009 an Administrative Law Judge found the Nicore claim group invalid.  Mr. Freeman appealed the decision and in 2010, the Interior Board of Land Appeals agreed with the ALJ.
  • In January of this year, Mr. Freeman challenged the IBLA’s decision. This time in the D. C. District Court against the Department of Interior.
  • In 2009 and 2010, he located about 1280 acres of new mining claims in the Rough and Ready Creek Watershed and the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area.
  • In 2010, Senator Ron Wyden, Senator Jeff Merkley and Representative Peter DeFazio asked the Obama Administration to temporarily withdraw the Rough and Ready and Baldface Creek watersheds from operation of the 1872 Mining Law to give Congress a chance to consider Forest Service recommendations for the future of the area. To date no action has been taken on the request.
  • In June of 2011, Mr. Freeman as RNR Resources LLC submitted a new mining plan of operations to the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest for what is now called the RNR Project. While the new proposal includes a facility on the Rough and Ready Creek Area of Critical Environmental Concern to process (dry, smelt and store the mine waste) the mined material, as before, the mine proposal is incomplete and as of July no plan for the nickel processing plant has been submitted to the BLM, who last year asked the proponent for information about the proposal on their land and for a plan of operations.

And so it begins all over again.

The intent of RoughandReadyCreek.org is to be a place were citizens can come to learn and share information about the exceptional values of this treasured, botanically rich landscape and the wild rivers that flow through it. And most important to grow a place-based movement to protect it from the threats to its integrity. We’re homegrown so please bear with us as we learn and grow.

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