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An end to dredge work?

By Mark Freeman
Mail Tribune

Mercury levels in the Rogue River could spell the end to suction mining

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Perry Allen emerges from the Rogue River and pulls off his goggles and breathing apparatus to see what 15 minutes of sucking rocks and sand from the riverbed has earned him.

He turns his suction dredge motor off and pulls back the dredge's sluice box cover to reveal a sludge of dark sand and rocks filtered to the bottom. He tosses a fistful of the muck into a large green pan.

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"There's plenty of gold in the Rogue River, you just have to go after it," Allen says. "I'm getting excited now. It's my first time back in the river."

Come the end of August, it likely will be his last.

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Forrest English, of the Ashland-based group Rogue Riverkeeper, says it's prudent that DEQ take into account the elevated mercury levels when issuing its general permit to dredgers because of how they disturb the river bottom during their season, which began June 15 and runs through August.

When dredgers suck the bottom for gold, they can dislodge mercury that could further add to the mercury problem, English says.

"Whether it's triggered because of a specific push or not, either way we'll be protecting water quality and fish habitat in the Rogue," English says.

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