Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Wednesday, March 9, 2022 @ 5:47 p.m. / Environment, Local Government
Crescent City Councilors Add Support to Legislation that Protects North Fork Smith River From Mining
Crescent City Councilors on Monday joined Del Norte and Curry County elected officials in supporting two pieces of legislation, both of which protects the city’s drinking water, proponents say.
Councilors unanimously approved sending letters of support U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, of Oregon, and Senators Alex Padilla and Dianne Feinstein, of California, for the Smith River National Recreation Area Expansion Act. and the Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act.
The first piece of legislation, introduced in May 2021, adds 58,000 acres to the Smith River National Recreation Areas, extending it into Oregon and setting aside 75 acres of North Fork Smith River tributaries for protection under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
The second, proposed by Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio, ensures the headwaters of Hunter Creek and Pistol River as well as Rough and Ready and Baldface creeks are protected from strip mining.
Both pieces of legislation are Congress’s response to an Obama administration mineral withdrawal order that temporarily halted a possible open pit mine proposed by the Red Flat Nickel Corp., according to Grant Werschkull, co-executive director of the Smith River Alliance.
“Your water supply comes from the Smith River,” Werschkull told Councilors.
According to Werschkull, in 2014 the Crescent City Council opposed Red Flat Nickel Corporation’s application to the Oregon Water Resources Department to conduct testing “to advance strip mining in the North Fork Smith River in Oregon.”
“Every jurisdiction — state, city, the water district — many thousands of people opposed it and through that process an administrative withdrawal was provided,” he said. “It’s called ‘in aid of legislation,’ that means you can then make a request to your elected representatives in Congress to carry forward legislation.”
The Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act is that legislation that can make Obama’s mineral withdrawal order permanent, Werschkull said.
Meanwhile, Merkley’s proposed expansion of the Smith River National Recreation Area is a continuation of the original legislation that created the Smith River National Recreation Area in 1990, Werschkull said.
“There had already been a National Recreation Area Act initiated in 1990 when California Nickel, a Canadian subsidiary company, proposed to strip mine in the Gasquet Mountain area in California,” he told Councilors. “That threat brought together a lot of community interest, state and federal interest, and that is what led to the Smith River National Recreation Area.”
According to Werschkull, if the California Nickel proposal had gone through Hardscrabble Creek near Gasquet would have been dammed.
Merkley’s bill would expand the Smith River National Recreation Area onto Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest land in Curry County.
DeFazio’s bill would include the headwaters of Pistol River and Hunter Creek, which are in Curry County. Baldface Creek is also in Curry County and is a tributary of the North Fork Smith River, while Rough and Ready Creek is a tributary of the Illinois River in Josephine County.
According to Werschkull, while Del Norte and Curry counties supported the Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act, Josephine County elected officials have some reservations.
Werschkull said they’re not ready to give up that potential for future mining in that area.
The Crescent City Council added their letters of support to similar letters from the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors, the Curry County Board of Commissioners and the Big Rock and Gasquet community services districts.
The Green Diamond Resource Company also sent a letter of support on Feb. 7 to U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Sen. John Barrasso, the committee’s ranking member.