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County mines moving closer to state oversight

The governing board of the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries is expected to advance a proposal in the 2009 Legislature for transitioning Columbia County's surface mining operations under state control.

Todd Dugdale, the county's director for Land Development Services, said talks are being ironed out between owners of limited-exempt mines and the state agency, commonly called by its acronym, DOGAMI, to move forward on the proposal.

'I think everything is lining up,' Dugdale said. 'I think there are just a few thorny issues relative in particular to our limited-exempt mines and our rules that exempt a certain number of our mines from regulation.'

Many of the issues involved with the transfer to the state agency would require a legislative fix.

Limited-exempt mines enjoy a grandfather-clause privilege in the county. There are seven such mines out the county's total 25 permitted mines that were in operation prior to county passage of its surface mining ordinance in 1972. That ordinance was passed just days before the Oregon Mined Land Reclamation Act went into effect in July of the same year.

The county ordinance canceled out the state act, and was intended to give the county, which has some of the richest resource lands in the state, more authority over its mining operations. Today, a mine that comes up for renewal under the ordinance must go through a review phase that includes public testimony. That piece would be lost if it moves to state oversight.

Dugdale said there are positive outcomes, however. For one, it would likely prove to be an administrative cost savings for the cash-strapped county.

Dugdale said at present there is no expected effect on how the county runs its depletion fee ordinance, which requires mine operators to pay a per-ton fee for aggregate extracted within the county.

Some mine operators, anticipating increased fees under DOGAMI control, have expressed a desire to see that fee reduced, Dugdale said, as a means to balance out the transition effect, though there's been no formal proposal.

Because the fee is in place per a voter-approved ordinance, any change would likely have to go back to the voters, he said.