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UK firm seeks to mine headwater of Smith River

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POSTED May 4, 2014 6:48 p.m.

CRESCENT CITY, Calif. (AP) — Residents of Del Norte County in the upper reaches of California fear what may happen if a company based in London follows through with plans to mine nickel along the Smith River tributaries.

The Smith is the last major California river without a dam, the San Francisco Chronicle reported, and it is a passageway for spawning fish as well as a source of drinking water for local residents.

“Locating a strip mine in the headwaters of the wild and scenic Smith River is like putting ice cubes made with toxic waste in your favorite drink,” said Grant Werschkull, executive director of the Smith River Alliance in Crescent City. “It’s completely outrageous.”

The mining firm, Red Flat Nickel Corp., has asked the U.S. Forest Service for permission to begin exploratory drilling on thousands of acres of land along Baldface Creek across the state line in Oregon. Baldface Creek is a tributary of the Smith, which runs into California.

An attorney for Red Flat couldn’t be reached for comment, the newspaper reported.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says hard rock mining is the largest source of toxic pollution in the country.

Opposition to mining has come from politicians, homeowners, fishermen, environmental groups and American Indian tribes, each with their own worries.

“Trying to put any major mine in the middle of the headwaters of any major salmon river is a recipe for disaster,” said Glen Span of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association. “It’s astonishing that this kind of thing still happens.”

Crescent City draws its drinking water from the river, and City Manager Eugene Palazzo said he’s monitoring the mining firm’s plans.

Those opposed to the mining say they feel powerless.

Laws written following California’s Gold Rush may prevent them from stopping the foreign venture. The General Mining Act of 1872 gives mining companies near free rein to stake claims and begin digging, the newspaper says. Groups have begun reaching out to political leaders to apply pressure.

Yet Rogue River Siskiyou National Forest spokeswoman Virginia Gibbons said mining is years off for the firm that made its initial application in October 2012.

“It’s a plan of operation for exploratory drilling,” Gibbons said. “It doesn’t mean there is going to be a mine there.”

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