Interior miners aren’t happy with changes proposed to federal permits for small scale placer operations that impact water resources, including wetlands. Dozens of miners attended an Army Corps of Engineers public meeting in Fairbanks this week on the proposals.
Roger Bergraff of Fairbanks has been in the mining business for 40 years, and says he’s witnessed a regulatory trend that’s forcing out mom and pop placer operators. Bergraff laments the demise he blames on expanding and increasingly complex environmental regulations and paperwork.
Bergraff points to legal interpretations of the Clean Water Act that have expanded the definition of wetlands, resulting in more regulation of mining in wet areas that cover much of the interior. Army Corps of Engineers Regulatory Specialist Deb McAtee says the proposed permitting system reflects court rulings.
The proposed new permits cover smaller areas, focus on wetlands, and require more specialized reclamation. Army Corps project manager Leslie Tose (TOESE) points to a 2008 mitigation rule that’s being rolled into the permit.
Tose says miners would also be required to better document their sites and work with photos. The proposed new permit, which is out for public comment, did not sit well with most miners at the meeting, but Casey Post, who’s mined north of Fairbanks for 5 years, expressed mixed feelings.
Post attributes some of the negativity about the proposed new permit to miss information that’s been rumored around, but adds wetlands reclamation can be a big deal.
Post, one of the younger people at the meeting, says he understands the frustration of long time miners, but considers permits and regulatory compliance just another part of the business.
Those rules are blamed by old timers like Roger Bergraff for quashing the kind of pioneering people he credits with making Alaska what it is today.
Bergraff does not blame the Army Corps of Engineers, which he says is trying to craft a workable placer permit but has to meet constraints coming from above. The Corp’s Tose is optimistic despite initial negative sentiment.
Tose says timing of the proposed permit roll out is not ideal because miners are busy during the summer. She says the public comment period will be extended to provide more off season time for feedback.