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The Oregon placer mineral technical task force : Resources, management, and potential impacts Public Deposited

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  • In September 1988, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior and the Governor of Oregon announced the creation of the joint state-federal Placer Minerals Technical Task Force. The group was charged with performing an analysis of the potential economic and environmental aspects of placer mineral mining in the nearshore waters of the southern Oregon coast. The first objective of the task force was to prepare a preliminary feasibility study, which included a geological summary of the mineral resource, an economic evaluation and technology assessment, an environmental review, and recommendations for future studies. In March 1989, I was hired by Oregon State University to prepare a biological and environmental inventory of the living resources in the proposed mining area and to address the potential concerns related to placer-mineral mining. I completed the report, under the supervision of Dr. William Pearcy, Professor of Oceanography, Oregon State University, in December 1989. Because the locations of a number of surface placer deposits were fairly well known, it was possible to begin to characterize the biological resources and environmental conditions associated with the deposits. The most extensive deposits are located off Cape Sebastian, south of the Rogue River, and in an area near Cape Blanco, just north of the Blanco Reef In these same areas, there are diverse marine habitats and resources. For example, the sea stacks, islands, and rocks within the nearshore zone are part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge. These rocks and islands are important habitat for sea birds and marine mammals. Other nearby submerged habitats such as rocky reefs, kelp beds, and sandy and muddy bottom sediments are environments for a variety of fish and shellfish species, many of which are important commercially-harvested species. Much of the existing literature suggests that the effects of an offshore mining project will be shortlived. The high advection in the nearshore zone will rapidly disperse turbidity plumes from mining, and high sediment transport rates will act to smooth out tracks or mounds left behind by the extraction process. However, most studies to date have dealt with the effects of short-term and transient dredging, and their results may not be applicable to a long-term continuous mining operation. Impacts will also depend on other factors such as the size of the area to be mined and the oceanographic conditions at the proposed site. Information from similar dredging projects or from laboratory studies will only provide partial answers about the potential environmental and biological consequences of a commercial-scale mining operation on the southern Oregon coast. Prior to mining activities, site-specific research and modeling will be required to minimize the risks this type of operation may have on the biological communities and adjacent shoreline areas. Increased turbidity, sedimentation, noise, and general disturbance in the vicinity of sensitive habitats (spawning or nursery grounds, and nesting areas) or during critical periods (larval recruitment and seasonal migrations) are likely to pose the greatest threats. The report is both a synthesis of existing data regarding the potential effects of offshore placer mining/dredging and a summary of the limited knowledge concerning the living resources off the southern Oregon coast. Within the context of task force responsibilities, the report fulfilled two preliminary objectives: 1) compiling of information about the effects of placer mining on the resources and uses of the nearshore ocean and 2) identifying data gaps. The report also served as a starting point for the planning phase of a biological sampling program carried out during the Aloha research cruise in September, 1990. To provide the context for this report, a review of the offshore mineral resource is presented, followed by a brief description of the current management/policy regime for marine mining at both the federal and state levels. A more detailed explanation of the history and creation of state-federal ocean minerals task forces in Oregon is also presented. The report itself, A Preliminary Literature Review of Potential Environmental and Biological Concerns Related to Placer Mining on the Southern Oregon Coast, is included here as Appendix A, as published in DOGAMI's Open File Report 0-89-12.
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