Developer forfeits Chetco River gold mining claims

GRANTS PASS — Authorities said Tuesday a Washington developer whose plans for mining gold on a premier Oregon salmon river inspired a bill in Congress to stop him has forfeited his claims.

Federal records show Dave Rutan and his Chetco River Mining & Explorations LLC of La Center, Wash., failed to pay $1,540 in annual filing fees on the 11 claims on the Chetco River. The claims are now considered closed, said Donna Kauffman, a land law examiner in the minerals section of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in Portland. The 30-day appeal period expired. His only recourse would be to go to court.

Over the past few years, Rutan has crossed swords with environmentalists over his mining and development plans on the Chetco. A bill to expand protections against mining along 20 miles of the river in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in southwestern Oregon has a hearing this week in Congress.

Rutan refused comment when contacted by telephone by The Associated Press.

Conservation groups hailed the development as a victory.

"I think this is an exceptional moment in time to protect this river and its fisheries against mining and the archaic 1872 Mining Act," said Rogue Riverkeeper Lesley Adams. "I hope Congress sees the opportunity to protect the Chetco and save taxpayers' dollars at the same time by keeping the river closed to mineral entry without any interruption."

No one else can ever pick up the three claims inside the Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, because new claims have been banned by law since 1984.

The U.S. Forest Service has prohibited new claims outside the wilderness in the Rogue River-Siskiyou for the next year-and-a-half to give Congress time to act.

Conservation watchdog Barbara Ullian said the forfeiture would save the Forest Service from spending at least $810,000, which the agency had estimated it would cost to do environmental reviews of mining eight of the claims. She added that the owner of some other patented mining claims inside the wilderness sold them to the Forest Service for $3.2 million in 1999.

Rutan bought his claims in 2007. He still owns a 60-acre patented mining claim that is private property along the Little Chetco River within the Kalmiopsis, where he offers gold mining trips to hobby miners.

BLM told Rutan in a Dec. 5, 2011, registered letter that his claim for a small-miner exemption from the fees was denied because he had an interest in 11 claims, one more than the limit for exemptions. The letter added that he missed the Sept. 1, 2011, deadline for filing the fees and had not filed an appeal within the next 30 days.

His wilderness claims ran into a roadblock last year, when the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality said it was unlikely he could qualify for a clean water permit if he planned to use suction dredges to mine gold.

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