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

Red Flat Nickel Corporation's Cleopatra Mining Project

Status – Red Flat Nickel’s Cleopatra Project | 2012 to early 2021

On October 26, 2012, Red Flat Nickel Corporation submitted a plan of operation to conduct mineral exploration activities across 139 contiguous federal mining claims known as the Cleopatra Claims Group. St. Peter Port Capital Limited, registered in Guernsey, holds 80% of the ordinary share capital of Red Flat Nickel. The Cleopatra lode claims cover about 2, 871 acres within the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest and the watershed of the National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River in Oregon.

In the years following, a number actions have been taken by state and federal agencies and by Oregon’s members of Congress to preserve the high conservation values of the North Fork Smith River’s Watershed in Oregon. In addition, on Feb. 3, 2021, the River Democracy Act of 2021 was introduced by Senator Ron Wyden and co-sponsored by Senator Jeff Merkley.

The River Democracy Act proposes adding 4,700 miles of Oregon rivers and streams to the National Wild and Scenic River System. Among them are the tributaries of the North Fork Smith River, including Taylor Creek and Baldface Creek. And on Feb. 11, 2021, Reps. Peter DeFazio and Jared Huffman re-introduced the Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Project Act (H.R. 980).

To follow is a brief chronology = of protective actions or proposals affecting the area of Red Flat Nickel Corporation’s Cleopatra Claims Group.

2014 | State of Oregon Denies Red Flat Nickel Corporation’s Limited License to use water. Company drops appeal, takes no further action.

On June 5, 2014, the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) received an application (LL-1533) from agents of Red Flat Nickel Corporation for the use of water from an unnamed creek. The creek, which begins as a spring, is tributary to Taylor Creek. Taylor Creek, in turn, is a tributary of Baldface Creek, which flows into the National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River about 2 river miles from the Smith River National Recreation Area. All perennial streams in the Baldface Creek Watershed are U.S. Forest Service Candidate Wild and Scenic Rivers.

Taylor Creek borders one edge of Red Flat Nickel Corporation’s Cleopatra Claims Group. The purpose of the limited license for water usage was for mineral exploration drilling. The duration was from July 1, 2014 through November 1, 2018. On September 30, 2014, ORWD denied the limited license..

Red Flat Nickel Corporation filed a timely notice of appeal but then withdrew it. The company appears to have taken no further action to acquire water for the proposed exploration drilling or to amend their initial plan of operation with the Forest Service.

2015 | Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act and Proposed Secretarial Mineral Withdrawal

On February 3, 2015, Senators Wyden and Merkley introduced the Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act (S. 346). Companion legislation of the same name (H.R. 682) was introduced in the in the House by Representatives Peter DeFazio (D OR) and Jared Huffman (D CA). The straightforward bill proposes withdrawing approximately 101,000 acres of National Forest and BLM-managed lands in Southwest Oregon, including the areas of Red Flat Nickel Corporation’s Cleopatra and Red Flat (RF) claims groups from location and entry under the mining laws of the United States, subject to valid existing rights. Read about mineral withdrawals here.

On June 29, 2015 the Department of Interior proposed withdrawing the area of the Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act to protect the area while congress considered legislation for the area. The Federal Register Notice served to formally withdraw the area for a period of two years while public comment was sought and environmental analysis prepared. The withdrawal is subject to valid existing rights.

2016 | 20-Year Southwestern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal finalized

On December 29, 2016, with overwhelming public support the Secretary of Interior formally withdrew the area for a period of 20-years, subject to valid existing right. See PLO 7859. Legislation to make the withdrawal permanent has subsequently been introduced in both the House and Senate each session of Congress. See articles about the local public hearings here and here.

2017 – Outstanding Resource Waters Designation for the watershed of the North Fork Smith River in Oregon

The North Fork Smith River, its tributaries, and associated wetlands were designated Outstanding Resource Waters under the Clean Water Act on July 17, 2017. For more details see here and here.

Next, the Oregon Water Resources Department amended its rules for the South Coast Basin prohibiting the withdrawal of water from the North Fork Smith Watershed except for named beneficial uses. Mining activities are not listed as a beneficial use. See Chapter 690 (11) and OWRD Notice for Smith River (Curry Co.) 

Both the Outstanding Resource Waters (ORW) designation and the rule change, were the result of citizen petitions to the state. The rules change and ORW designation were subject to extensive public processes and analysis.

Cleopatra Mining Project’s Status Today 

Since withdrawing their appeal of the State of Oregon’s denial of a limited license to use water from the unnamed tributary of Taylor Creek in 2014, Red Flat Nickel Corporation has not, to the best of our knowledge, amended their 2012 mining plan of operation or submitted a new plan of operation that addresses the changed circumstances of the area of the Cleopatra Claims Group.

Nor has the company, as of this writing, asserted valid existing rights for the Cleopatra Claims group. This contrasts to their 2018 plan of operation for confirmation drilling on the Red Flat Claims Group in the headwaters of Hunter Creek and the North Fork Pistol River.

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 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 the 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.

A growing community of opposition

Oregon has long loved its corner of the Smith River watershed too and now a strong cross border coalition has formed 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 Red Flat Nickel Corporation. 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.