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

The Cleopatra Mining Project

A foreign-owned corporation wants to mine the pristine headwaters of the Wild and Scenic Smith River

Immediately north of California’s Smith River National Recreation Area is the pristine Oregon headwaters of the North Fork Smith River. It’s here, mostly in the watershed of Baldface Creek,  that Red Flat Nickel Corporation (RFN), a foreign-owned mining company wants to construct a nickel strip mine. Baldface Creek is a direct tributary to the National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith and the most productive tributary of this world class salmon and steelhead river. See the updates below on the status of Red Flat Nickel’s proposed Cleopatra mining project.

The confluence of Baldface and Taylor Creeks, below where Red Flat Nickel Corporation wants to develop the Cleopatra Project—a nickel laterite strip mine.
The confluence of Baldface and Taylor Creeks, below where Red Flat Nickel wants to develop the Cleopatra Project—a nickel laterite strip mine. J.R. Weir photo.

 Mining high value conservation lands

The Cleopatra Mining Project is located on federal mining claims, established in 2007 under the 1872 Mining Law. The 139 claims are in a contiguous block (see map below). They’re located as lode claims. Each claims is approximately 20.66 acres. All are on the Wild Rivers Ranger District of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in Curry County, Oregon.

The Cleopatra claims are entirely within the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area — part of the largest National Forest wild area in Oregon and the third largest in the Pacific Northwest. Most heavily impacted in the South Kalmiopsis will be Baldface Creek watershed. In 1994, the wild creek and all its perennial tributaries were found “eligible” by the Forest Service to become National Wild and Scenic Rivers.

In 2004, the Secretary of Agriculture recommended that Congress add the watersheds of Baldface Creek and the North and South Forks of Rough and Ready Creek, plus four other areas to the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. The recommendation is called the 2004 Kalmiopsis Wilderness Additions.

The claim holder (RFN), calls this pristine National Forest land , “the Cleopatra property.” St. Peter Port Capital Limited (RFN’s parent company describes the claims as “fully owned tenements.” The sense of assumed ownership these words imply should send chills down the spines of those who love the North Fork Smith River and the South Kalmiopsis — especially when the 1872 Mining Law gives mining companies such a huge advantage over everyone else.

What we know about the Cleopatra Mining Project

We know that in October of 2012 RFN submitted a mining plan of operations to the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest for the Cleopatra Test Drilling Project. The proposal is described as phase II of a “continuing operation.”

Because the nickel laterite soils of claim area are on the surface of a broad rounded plateau, we also know the type of mining ultimately employed will be a form of surface or strip mining.

The target minerals listed in the Cleopatra mining plan of operation are nickel, chromium and cobalt. The proposal is to drill core samples at 59 sites across the approximately 2,900 acre Cleopatra Claims Block. The company has agreed to pay for the environmental analysis in order to expedite approval of the test drilling.

The Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest is in the process of analyzing the environmental effects of the drilling proposal under the National Environmental Policy Act. The Forest Service webpage for the project calls it “Cleopatra Test Drilling.” According to the project initiation letter, the area of the analysis is a little under 3900 acres. The first public comment period, known as scoping, is expected in November.

Previously, RFNC conducted other exploratory work on the claims, drilling what they describe in the Cleopatra POO as ‘736 shallow auger holes’ across the claims block. There was no public notice of this initial phase of sampling and no environmental analysis by the Forest Service.

Red Flat Nickel Corporation is a subsidiary of St. Peter Port Capital (SPPC). Read more about RFN on our Mining Threat’s page. SPPC’s current annual report notes that mineral samples taken from the Cleopatra and Red Flat claims have been sent to a company in their portfolio called Dundee Sustainable Technologies for analysis.

RFNC has not indicated more to the public about their Cleopatra Mining Project and what mineral extraction process they will use. We know that in the 1980’s California Nickel Corporation’s Proposed Gasquet Mountain Mine was designed as an acid heap leach operation.

Glenbrook Nickel at Riddle Oregon was a smelter operation. RNR Resources is proposing a smelter operation at Rough and Ready Creek. This Wikipedia article discusses four types of processing used for nickel laterites but needs further documentation. These are some of the possibilities but neither the Forest Service or RFNC has shared information on what method RFN is planning to use.

SPPC’s interim report (through September 2013) states that:

“The team have made good progress with the US Forestry Department approval for deeper drilling in Spring 2014. This is necessary to produce a Preliminary Economic Assessment and to enable the required competent persons’ report for an AIM flotation.”

Cleopatra mining project status update (August 10, 2015)

The Cleopatra test drilling plan of operations has been in limbo since late 2014 when RFN withdrew their application with the State of Oregon to use spring water from a tributary of Baldface Creek for their test drilling. The company failed to provide the Forest Service with updated information needed for analysis of the test drilling to continue.

Adding more uncertainty to when or if the mining project might move forward is the June 29, 2015 proposed five year closure of the Rough and Ready Creek and North Fork Smith River watersheds to mining .

However, the proposed withdrawal area is far from out of danger. There will likely be legal challenges and the withdrawal is only proposed and subject to valid existing rights.

Go to our special page to learn more about land withdrawals (aka mineral withdrawals), to our “protection effort” page to learn about specific measures to protect the beautiful rivers of the Kalmiopsis region from mining and our take action page for how you can help prevent this pristine land and it’s beautiful rivers from becoming industrial zones of mines, ore haul roads and metal processing facilities.

What we don’t know about the Cleopatra mining project

The short answer is “a lot.” The proposed Pebble Mine in Southeast Alaska’s Bristol Bay is also in the exploratory phase. As with the Cleopatra Mining Project, a plan for the Pebble Mine has yet to be submitted. However in Alaska, communities, tribes and fishing interests got a glimpse of what the Pebble Partnership was proposing through drawings the company submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission. Check out this excellent Frontline documentary about the Pebble Mine.

With the Cleopatra mining project the public is even more in the dark than with the Pebble Mine. There is no information about the extent of mining, extraction processes, facilities locations, etc.. While the current Cleopatra mining plan of operations calls the test drilling a “continuing operation,” there was no analysis or public notice of phase I, and to the best of our knowledge, RFNC has revealed nothing to local communities about their intentions, including those that get their drinking water from the Smith River downstream of the project.

The State of Oregon

On June 5, 2014, Red Flat Nickel Corporation submitted an application to the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) for what’s called a Limited License. The Limited License is for the use water from an unnamed tributary of Taylor Creek, a tributary of Baldface Creek. The water is required for RFNC Cleopatra Test Drilling Project. OWRD describes the use as “Industrial/Manufacturing.”

Though the company does not disclose it in their application, the water source they want to use for their industrial activities is actually a beautiful spring gushing cold and clear out of the ground. The spring forms the unnamed tributary fairly high up on Cleopatra Ridge.

Over 3,000 comments were submitted to OWRD during the brief two week comment period in July. We believe most were in opposition to RFNC use of the pure water of this spring (likely an “eligible Wild and Scenic River) in the service of developing a nickel strip mine in the headwaters of the Smith River.  See OWRD online file for the application. The decision is pending.

Update 9/29/2014: The OWRD just denied RFNC’s application for a limited license. Read OWRD’s final denial order. The company has 60 days from September 30, 2014 to file a petition for reconsideration or to appeal the denial to the circuit court.

Update 8/10.2015: Red Flat Nickel challenged OWRD’s denial of their limited license but later, without much explanation, withdrew the application for the limited license. Their Cleopatra mining plan of operation has not been updated to reflect there is no current source of water for the test drilling.

The North Fork Smith River—a national treasure

RFNC could hardly have chosen a more controversial place to develop a nickel laterite strip mine than the pristine headwaters of California’s iconic Smith River. California residents have a long memory and they love their Smith River. They’ve not forgotten the long hard struggle over the proposed Gasquet Mountain Mine in the 1980’s.

That close encounter with a major nickel laterite strip mine was a primary impetus for the establishment of the Smith River National Recreation Area in 1990. The passion for protecting the only large undammed river system in California has not dimmed.

“Like Bristol Bay, the Smith River is worth protecting…We will not rest until we know that the Smith River is protected from mining.”

Jeff Thompson, Executive Directer of California Trout writing in the San Francisco Chronicle June 9, 2014. See also the San Francisco Chronicle: Proposed mine by the wild Smith roils Del Norte County folks and Del Norte Triplicate: Mining foes speak.

Unfortunately Oregon didn’t follow California’s lead in 1990. Senator Gordon Smith (R) opposed including the Oregon portion of the Smith River’s watershed in the National Recreation Area. Senator Ron Wyden, Senator Jeff Merkley and Rep. Peter DeFazio are now speaking up in defense of the area. Check out their April 2010 letter to the Obama Administration (pdf/178 MB).

A growing community of opposition

Oregon loves it’s priceless corner of the Smith River watershed too. A strong cross border coalition is forming in opposition to the Cleopatra Mining Project and to protect Baldface Creek, all of the North Fork Smith River watershed, adjacent lands at Rough and Ready Creek, plus the headwaters of nearby Hunter Creek on the Wild Rivers Coast.

Red Flat Nickel Corporation also wants to mine the headwaters of Hunter Creek.

The Cleopatra Mining Project is one of two connected proposals submitted to the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest by RFNC. The second is the Red Flat Mining Project. It’s located in the headwaters of Hunter Creek and the Pistol River at a botanically rich area known as Red Flat. Read about the Red Flat Mining Project.

Company ownership and management

Red Flat Nickel Corporation is a subsidiary of St. Peter Port Capital Limited of Guernsey. Guernsey is a Channel Island and British Crown dependency. SPPC reports they own an 80 per cent equity stake and a secured loan in Red Flat Nickel Corporation. RFNC is managed by SPPC’s Investment Manager.  Read more about Red Flat Nickel Corporation at our Mining Threats page.

Forest Service web page for Cleopatra test drilling environmental analysis and information

You can view Red Flat Nickel Corporation’s Cleopatra test drilling plan of operation and other documents and sign up for updates on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest’s webpage for the Cleopatra Project. Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest’s webpage for the Cleopatra Project

Map of Cleopatra Claims Block

 Cleopatra Mine Project claim block location in the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area and the Forest Service’s recommended South Kalmiopsis Wilderness Addition.