Bill would extend McKenzie’s Scenic Waterway designation
SALEM: A move to regulate gold mining could impact area property owners. Oregon Senate Bill 401, recently introduced by Senator Alan Bates (D-Medford/Ashland), would bring 30 more rivers (including additional portions of the McKenzie) into the State Scenic Waterways program. Supporters say the move is in recognition of outstanding scenic vistas, value to fish and wildlife, and the streams importance as sources of drinking water.
Established in 1970, the pro-gram includes segments of the McKenzie River from Clear Lake downstream to Carmen Reservoir, from Tamolitch Falls to Trail Bridge Reservoir and from Trail Bridge Dam to Paradise Campground. In addition, it also covers the South Fork McKenzie River from the boundary of the Three Sisters Wilderness, downstream to Cougar Reservoir, and from immediately below Cougar Dam to its confluence with the McKenzie River.
Under SB 401, coverage along the McKenzie would extend to an area further to the west, going from Paradise Campground to the confluence with Cone Creek, near Finn Rock.
Restricted activities occur with-in -mile of the bank of a state scenic waterway. The program limits cutting trees, mining, road construction, railroads, utilities, buildings, or other structures. Those actions can’t occur unless approved by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. In addition, development on affected properties is restricted to being “substantially screened from view from the river by topography or native vegetation.”
“Safeguarded rivers attract river enthusiasts, which means more business and more people enjoying them for the long term,” says Frank Armendariz, owner of River Trail Outfitters in Eugene. “As our population grows so will demand for river access, and that underscores the critical need to protect these special rivers.”
Opponents to expansion of the waterways include the Willamette Valley Miners and the Millennium Digger Association, which will sponsor a rally on February 28th on the steps of the Oregon state capitol. The groups represent a number of “recreational miners,” who use small floating dredges to look for gold.
Joe Greene of Green Environmental is one of those miners, who cites other reasons of concern besides the use of dredges. “Actually, the day the river adjacent to a person’s private property is designated an Oregon Scenic Waterway, the landowner’s interests and rights become secondary to the state,” according to Greene. “The law calls this ‘encouraging responsible development.’”
SB 401 would also protect segments of the Rogue, Illinois, South Umpqua, Grande Ronde, Sandy, Molalla, and other rivers across the state.
“World-class rivers like the Illinois, Rogue, and South Umpqua have become ground zero for destructive suction dredge mining in our state, and this practice is impacting imperiled wild salmon runs,” says John Ward of Rogue Flyfishers. “This designation will benefit salmon recovery as water quality and fish habitat get protected.”
Greene, though, isn’t convinced. “I believe that the scientific results from a large number of investigations, as well as the reports from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Final Environmental Impact Report for Suction Dredging, provides substantial information to support the position that the Oregon Scenic Waterways Act should not be misused to fix an emotional issue within a segment of the Oregon population,” he noted. “SB401 is a misuse of the Oregon Scenic Waterways Act. This Act was passed for higher principals than to have it used to destroy a small Oregon industry that the scientific facts have determined has a less than significant effect on the environment.”