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Home arrow Opinion arrow Editorials arrow A golden chance for county?

A golden chance for county?


We don’t doubt that there’s still gold in them thar hills of Baker County.

But whether the precious metal, the quest for which fueled Baker County’s founding, exists in anything approaching abundance in the rock tailing piles of Sumpter Valley is a less certain proposition.

That said, we urge the county’s Planning Commission, which meets Thursday, to amend development rules so the tailings can be tested and that question answered.

The current code allows mining within 2,000 yards of the center of Highway 7.

The amendment the planners will consider Thursday would allow miners to sample other parts of the county’s holdings in the area, which total almost 1,600 acres.

Sumpter Valley’s gravels have been extensively mined, to be sure.

Those tailing piles, which spread over several miles of the valley west of Phillips Reservoir, are the detritus left by gold-mining dredges that churned through the area for the first half of the 20th century.

The dredges — the last of which operated until 1954 and today is the centerpiece of Sumpter Valley Dredge State Park on the south side of Sumpter — were effective but also relatively crude.

Some miners believe the dredges either missed or left behind a significant quantity of gold, and that reprocessing the tailings could yield a financial windfall.

Although a 1982 survey concluded that re-mining the tailings wasn’t worthwhile, the current value of gold — about $1,770 an ounce, compared with 1982’s average of $376 — makes the prospect of finding a readily available source rather more enticing.

The Planning Commission’s decision Thursday is only the first of several steps necessary before digging could commence.

The County Commissioners would also have to endorse the idea, and then issue a request for proposals  from miners interested in testing the tailings.

Various environmental studies and permits would be needed, too.

Yet we’re not dealing here with an open pit mine or similar operation that would dramatically alter the landscape. In Sumpter Valley, the landscape was dramatically altered decades ago.

We’re intrigued by the possibility of reworking the tailings in an environmentally responsible way, creating jobs and, potentially, putting money into county coffers through royalties or other fees.

 
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