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Appeals Court Rejects Oregon Mining Protest

(CN) - Concern for salmon failed to sway the 9th Circuit against the mining of chromite, garnet, and zircon sands that federal regulators have allowed near Coos Bay, Ore.

Oregon Resources Corporation (ORC) is currently mining sands on 160 acres of privately owned timberlands. The mine supplies foundries and the water-jet cutting industry.

The Oregon Coast Alliance and others had claimed in court that the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Army Corps of Engineers failed to take into account several factors in approving the permits, including the risks of "hexavalent chromium generation" (Cr+6) to the local coho salmon population.

U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan, in Eugene, Ore., ruled for the government in 2011, however, leading to an appeal before the 9th Circuit this fall.

A three-judge panel in Portland found Friday that the government did not violate environmental laws in approving permits for the 160-acre mine under the Clean Water Act.

"Here, three separate agencies examined ORC's project and concluded that the risk of Cr+ 6 generation was minimal for two primary reasons: (1) There was no causal mechanism that would lead to increased Cr+ 6; and (2) the chemical makeup of the site favored Cr+ 6 attenuation rather than Cr+ 6 generation," Judge Milan Smith wrote for the panel.

The plaintiffs had also contended that the corps failed to take into account the cumulative impact of the mining project on the local environment, especially in light of the company's alleged plans to branch out to other areas.

Finding the company's future plans "largely speculative," the appellate panel ruled that the government had correctly issued the permits and allowed mining to begin.

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