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Edd Franz, BLM Montrose
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There will be a placer mining operation in the San Miguel River for much of the summer. The operation is about one mile downriver from Deep Creek (near the igloo-shaped county road shed) near where Willow Creek comes in (right about the same place where the highway is down to one lane while they rebuild the eastbound lane). The claimant will have a camp along the M59 trail on his claim. He uses a motorized floating suction dredge. He was operating there late season last year after most of the boating was done.

The part of his claim that he intends to work this summer is in the river channel on either side of an island. See attached map. From June 9th to August 5th this summer he plans to work in the channel on the river-right side of the island. Then on August 5th he plans to move his operation to the river-left channel.

He will place buoys (empty milk jugs painted red, anchored to the river bottom) across the entrance to the channel he's working. BLM will have signs at the put-in alerting boaters to the mining operation, as well as one on river-right just above the island where the mining work is occurring. This lowest sign will advise boaters to run left for the period that he will be working the right channel, then it will advise boaters to run right late season when he's working the left channel.

Late season the river may be too low to run right, in which case it will likely be a portage.

The claimant uses a deadman to anchor the dredge in the river, and it is aligned with the flow of the river. While he's underwater in SCUBA gear he has a partner top-side watching for anything coming from upstream (logs, boats, etc.).

This is a legal, valid mining claim, and he has a legal right to work the claim. He is aware and supportive of boater safety around his operation, and has worked with San Miguel County officials and BLM staff try to minimize the disruption to river recreationists while still being able to work his claim.

He intends to begin his operation Friday, June 9, 2017.
 

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Just to clarify, this will affect the normal run commonly called the ' sawpit ' run where the usual put in is at Bilk Creek and the takeout in Placerville ( Or beyond )
 

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CBrow
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Yeah right. Just who is this person or persons that has no problem disrupting summer recreation on a free flowing river and silting the water which is detrimental to fish and other wildlife. Is this a commercial mining
operation? Sorry but this sucks!!! I've seen these Ah&&&s all over Alaska
and they are almost always aggressive jerks who run people off public access and usually carry firearms to prove a point. This is not good news.:confused:
 

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I believe the crux of the issue is that rivers in Colorado were not declared navigable waters before the state was formed so were not considered public land at that time and therefore were available for private ownership.

To change that now would require the state to pay fair value to every landowner for the portion of their land that lies below the high water mark of the river.

If that ever did happen, though, then no one would be able to impound the river with makeshift weirs, wires, fences, etc, nor dump or dredge in any area below the high water mark. People would be then be free to not only float, but to land anywhere below the high water mark.
 

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IMO, we need to adhere to playground rules here. This guy has his rights to his mining claim and seems to be interested in working with the boating community.
It would be nice if he could understand that the boatable flows on this stretch of the Mig. are only a couple of weeks, and that by 7/1, we're, for the most part, done for the season.
What is far more concerning to me is what broke loose above the Howard's fork the other day. People in Ophir said that it sounded like a freight train. All I know is that the the Mig. was a disturbing shade of chocolate/orange...
 

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Agreed, rtsideup. Happy to see the claim owner posting on the forum and giving a heads up to the community.

My plight with the operational plan is I have run that section of the Miguel in a 10' raft down to 250cfs. The low water channel is the left run. My final lap on the Miguel was late August/early Sept. The option of portaging in this zone would be problematic for obvious reasons. The "better" option would be to take the right run and drag your boat for a 100 yrds or so.
 

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We saw the sign tonight saying go left. We did, thinking there was a hazard of some sort on the right, as we had no idea about the mining. Thanks for getting this info out efranz. Is the entire right channel blocked? We could not see anything over on the right, but did not get out of our boats. I'll go right tomorrow evening and see whats going on. Flows are high now and have been great the last few weeks, and it looks like we will have good flows into july.
 

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Edd Franz, BLM Montrose
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Discussion Starter #11
DirtyHands --

No, this is not my claim. I'm a recreation planner with BLM. My concern is for the safety of people recreating.
 

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I believe the crux of the issue i

I think the crux of the issue is that river runners need to go either left or right so they don't run into a dredge.

This claim is on BLM lands and under the General Mining Law of 1872 the claim owner staked and filed a placer claim with the intent of "discovering or recovering valuable mineral deposits" from the river. It could also be that he wants a place to camp for the summer. The claimant does not own the land or the river bed.

In the last few years there were many mining claims staked and filed along the San Miguel on BLM lands. They are marked by the white PVC tubes you'll see along the river and highway 145. Some markers have yellow signs attached to them that note how it is a Federal offense to mess with the markers. its possible we'll see more mining operations but I suspect that proximity (or lack of) to road access will determine that.
 

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Edd Franz, BLM Montrose
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Discussion Starter #13
Steven --

My understanding is that the dredge itself is maybe the size of a 10 or 12 foot raft, and that it is stationary while the dredging is conducted. He can move it anywhere within the active river channel.
 

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I believe the crux of the issue i

I think the crux of the issue is that river runners need to go either left or right so they don't run into a dredge.

This claim is on BLM lands and under the General Mining Law of 1872 the claim owner staked and filed a placer claim with the intent of "discovering or recovering valuable mineral deposits" from the river. It could also be that he wants a place to camp for the summer. The claimant does not own the land or the river bed.

In the last few years there were many mining claims staked and filed along the San Miguel on BLM lands. They are marked by the white PVC tubes you'll see along the river and highway 145. Some markers have yellow signs attached to them that note how it is a Federal offense to mess with the markers. its possible we'll see more mining operations but I suspect that proximity (or lack of) to road access will determine that.
By providing for a way that river travel can continue, the guy is doing it right and it would probably be allowed, by permit, even if the river was made legally navigable if done in that fashion.

I was commenting more on CBow's comments. What if someone sets up a dredge in the only line through a section of the river because they have a claim ? Or when they string a wire or fence across the whole river because they own both sides ? What if a hundred people file claims and want to dredge because Gold goes to $5000 an ounce ?

Wouldn't all those scenarios be allowed under current law, effectively completely impounding the river to passage ?
 

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My understanding of "navagability" is that a river in Colorado is considered to be "navigable" because in the past (mostly due to mining and railroad construction) the river was used for floating timbers, logs, and other stuff downstream to mines, towns or whatever. Didn't have much to do with an actual boat. But thats why we can float through sections of the rivers even though both sides are privately owned - "common good use or whatever". Fencing across the river gets all "clouded" because there are livestock issues but usually the foater/navagabiity issue stands.

I can't say who has precedence regarding dredging blocking the only floatable route to downriver users. I suppose both parties could claim it but the fact there is the 1872 law makes me think that mining could have historical precedence.

If gold were to go to $5000/ounce I bet you'd see a lot more dredging operations. I think the only reason you don't see more operations on the San Miguel is that gold prices aren't that high, the amount of recoverable gold isn't that much and most of the BLM river corridor isn't easily accessed (ie. road access right next to riverbank)T he claimant in this discussion made a case that he could access his claim via an unused /closed off county road that's adjacent to his claim. Hence the subject of our discussion.
 

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CBrow
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Let me be clear. I understand this guy has a legal right to mine his claim. And he even has a BLM guy acting as his spokes person. That being said we all need to understand that this is not recreational mining. This is a commercial mining operation that will be using a suction dredge to move gravel in the main stem channel of the San Miguel river. Moving lots of gravel is the goal here and moving lots of gravel is simply detrimental to aquatic habitat and the animals that depend on it. As mentioned above what would happen if gold went to 3 or 4k an ounce. Would every one still be ok with dozens of gold dredges in our beautiful San Miguel river? I sure as hell would not.

I have been around these operations many times before and have seen the damage left behind by many a legal claim. The riparian areas where they build their cabins or tent camps are degraded and denuded. They leave equipment and improvements for others to clean up. These folks are not good stewards of the land. I'll stop my rant now and go eat dinner but I think we should all be a little concerned about this. Thanks, Craig Bradley.
 

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I'm not a lawyer, but have researched this subject quite a bit. I would hope any lawyers out there would chime in if I'm way off base ...

I understand that the difference between Navigable and Non-Navigable waters is that with Navigable waters the public owns the land under the river up to the high water line and not only does the public have free passage of the river, but no one is allowed to impound ( Block ) the river, dump or Dredge without a permit. ( I assume getting a permit would require a plan to not interfere with the normal course of the river ( As has been done voluntarily in this case ) )

Non-Navigable rivers, and the land beneath them, on the other hand are owned by respective private property owners as determined solely by their property lines.

Cases have come up, namely the Taylor, where someone was charged for floating the river and the courts upheld that the water is public property, but the land below the river is private in Colorado and the person charged touched some rocks and was therefore guilty of trespassing. That if the laws needed to be changed, the legislature needed to do it.

So, it went to the Legislature, who bailed on the topic when they found out the way to solve it would involve paying the landowners fair value and to ' take ' their land and make it public. There could possibly be other expenses too. Would the state then be responsible to maintain the waterway ? Remove strainers, etc ?

The topic got politically hot and the temporary solution was to have the State agree to mediate in individual cases. That floaters would be allowed to cross private property on a river as long as they don't touch the bottom or stop on the shores and landowners would not charge them with trespassing. As above, that local Law Enforcement would determine the merits and make a call in case of dispute.

The alarming thing starting to be discovered, though, are the impoundment issues. Recently near Lake City a wire was found suspended across the river and the sheriff declared that was OK since the landowner owned both sides of the river. There's a wire and pallets hanging in the river on the San Miguel below Norwood Bridge. There's barbed wire fences across the river on the upper Uncompahgre. Barbed wire fences across the river on the Upper Upper Taylor. Trees dragged into the river on the middle Taylor explicitly to block boat passage. Etc, etc.

All these impoundments could be considered life threatening to floaters. It's sad to think that legislature will not act on this until people start getting hurt, but isn't that always the case ?

Is there any law that stops a property owner from, say, stringing chain link fences across a river if they own both sides ? Or as said before, from placing obstructions in the river effectively blocking it from passage ? If not, what about blocking the river and demanding a toll to pass ? Like the medieval Robber Barons on the Rhine ?
 

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I'm with you CoDave but, just to be clear, the pallet fence on the Miguel is below the Pinion bridge, after the Norwood canyon take out. Technically, you are right, it is also below the Norwood bridge; and the many bridges above that.
 

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I thought more about the robber barons and it appears that rec.gov is a modern manifestation of that. Impounding a river in order to demand a fee to pass.

The funny part is did the placer guy on the San Miguel need to get a permit ? If it is BLM land, I would think so. If private, well the juries still out on that ...

Maybe placer claims in the future will be handled by rec.gov.

It affords a little peace of mind, at least.
 

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The funny part is did the placer guy on the San Miguel need to get a permit ? If it is BLM land, I would think so. If private, well the juries still out on that ...
It sounds like the guy's got everything in place from what the BLM is saying, and I would expect the agency is probably going to make sure everything's in order considering how high-profile this mining claim is. If you're thinking about a river permit, the San Miguel, as with most rivers in the state, doesn't require a permit to float.

Also, while I agree with CBow about the detrimental environmental impacts of ripping up the riverbed and dumping the outwash back into the river, the BLM is not acting as the miner's spokesman. The BLM is the managing agency and is simply reporting to the river-running community the fact that the mining will be taking place, something that I appreciate. If you don't like what the agency does, it's the rules that need to be changed and you need to keep up pressure on your elected representatives to effect such change.

-AH
 
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