Redding Record Searchlight Permit refund PDF Print E-mail
Written by Redding Record Searchlight   
Thursday, 31 December 2009

The price of gold is down a bit as the year ends but still near $1,100 an ounce. With those stakes, the suction-dredge operators who used to ply their potentially lucrative hobby on many California rivers would far prefer the right to mine over a $47.50 refund of their permit fees.

But the consolation prize, offered under a bill recently drafted by state Sen. Sam Aanestad, is probably the best deal they can get after the Legislature slapped a moratorium on the practice this summer.

That law stopped dredge mining while the Department of Fish and Game reviews whether its regulations do enough to protect declining salmon fisheries. In the process, it also left more than 3,000 miners holding permits that were suddenly worth less than a bucket of dry gravel.

And while the Legislature saw such urgency to halt mining that the moratorium took effect immediately after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the measure, nobody gave much thought to the miners who'd bought permits in good faith only to have a political dispute banish them to the banks.

Aanestad had fought the moratorium all along, though when the votes came he was in the minority. Now he's at least trying to get the miners a square deal by sponsoring the legislation to refund their permit fees.

Aanestad's office estimates the total refunds due under his bill at $250,000 - piddling to the state of California in a normal year. But when the Legislature returns to work next week, it will face the task of closing still-gargantuan deficits. It's easy to imagine lawmakers having higher priorities than making the miners whole. But they'd be wrong to shrug off this issue.

The in-state fee of $47.50 (non-Californians pay nearly $200) will barely cover a tank of gasoline for a round trip to the typically remote suction-dredge mining sites. The money, in the scheme of things, is trivial. The principle, however, is anything but: If the government collects a permit fee and then bans the activity midyear, it's a bait-and-switch worthy of a subprime mortgage lender, not the state of California. The Legislature needs to take Aanestad's cue and fix its mistake.



Last Updated ( Thursday, 31 December 2009 )
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