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Gold Hill man was mining illegally, judge rules

Ruling says Clifford R. Tracy must pay to fix the Sucker Creek claim

By Anita Burke
Medford Mail Tribune

A federal judge determined Monday that a Gold Hill man digging for gold on Forest Service land on Sucker Creek in Josephine County was guilty of illegal mining and will be responsible for costs to remedy his road-building and mining.

The miner, Clifford R. Tracy, 37, was cited, then finally arrested in September on charges that he was mining illegally. He spent 12 days in jail when he refused to sign a release agreement promising he wouldn't continue mining, becoming the latest center in an ongoing controversy over mining on public land.

On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Owen M. Panner found Tracy guilty of mining without an operating plan approved by forest officials and sentenced him to one year on probation

Panner didn't impose any fine or additional jail time, although the misdemeanor violation can be punished with fines of up to $5,000 and jail sentences of up to 6 months. He noted that Tracy is seeking bankruptcy protection and the government had asked for reparations in a civil suit, also heard on Monday afternoon.

"I don't want you violating the law even though you think you have rights to the minerals," Panner said to Tracy.

Tracy reiterated his contention that the Forest Service is against miners and mining and said he would continue to work claims on Bureau of Land Management-controlled property in the same drainage.

"This has been a complete violation of due process," he told Panner. "My right to minerals can't be circumscribed by any agency."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Neil J. Evans said Tracy's "contention about the rights of miners ignores the right of the Forest Service to manage public land."

Panner also refused to dismiss a civil suit and agreed with the U.S. Attorney's Office motion that Tracy had trespassed on public land and should be responsible for the environmental damage caused by his mining operation.

"It was totally inappropriate for him to continue mining," Panner said. "There's no question about the evidence or the law."

Both Tracy and the government agreed that the miner had submitted an operating plan, but forest officials determined that the proposed work would cause "a significant surface disturbance" that could harm water quality in a creek where salmon live. They proposed an alternative, but in July, Tracy withdrew from the process.

However, he built a road, cut down trees, diverted a small stream that flows into Sucker Creek, moved earth, created settling ponds that sent sediment into Sucker Creek, and began processing ore on his claim, court documents said.

Panner said he understood that mining is difficult under current environmental regulations and that governmental delays are frustrating.

Tracy testified that he first sought permission to mine the claim in 1996 when forest officials said a permit was required for operations that were already under way then. He said he regularly checked on the progress of his application and in 2005 submitted a new, detailed plan for more extensive operations.

However, Panner said Tracy should never have proceeded without permission just because he felt the process was taking too long.

Court documents indicated that removing the road Tracy built, putting in erosion control and new plants could cost up to $22,000, but the work, already completed, had cost less. Details on the actual cost weren't listed.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail aburke@mailtribune.com.

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