Malheur County approves zoning, sage grouse permits for Nevada mining firm

ONTARIO – The Malheur County Planning Commission last month approved two applications for a Nevada mining firm, keeping on track plans for a proposed gold and silver mine southwest of Vale.

In its April 25 decision, the commission approved a conditional use permit and special conditions to accommodate sage grouse habitat on county-controlled land at the Grassy Mountain site.

The commission decision allows mining activity on a 62-acre parcel of land that is zoned range use. 

The sage grouse permit clears the way for large scale development inside the area catalogued as a low-density for the bird. 

State law calls for certain counties in Oregon – such as Malheur – to consider impacts to sage grouse when deliberating a major development. 

Paramount Gold Nevada Corp. plans to build the mine on three claims at the site. A 62-acre parcel under the county’s jurisdiction is key because it would provide the main road into the mine.

Paramount Gold is wading through an extensive permitting process with state and federal agencies and the zoning and sage grouse permits from the county is a crucial step.

The commission approved the permits despite resistance from two state conservation groups. The Oregon Natural Desert Association and the 1000 Friends of Oregon opposed the decision. Both groups told the commission in April that the mining project puts wildlife at risk and asked that county postpone a decision on the permits. 

In a 21-page letter to the commission last month, both groups explained their opposition.

 “The project, including activities on the patent parcel, will cause detrimental and permanent harm to fish and wildlife from long-term habitat modification and loss as well as impact from proposed mine project activities,” the letter said.

The conservation groups also asserted that impacts to the sage grouse must be weighed for the entire mine project, not just the 62-acre parcel under county control. The Oregon Natural Desert Association and 1000 Friends of Oregon also said the mine operators failed in the application to consider mining’s impact to big game winter range and “downplays potential effects on pygmy rabbits and their habitat.”

The mining operation was also called into question because the land use application “does not disclose any information about the potential effects of cyanide leach chemical process mining.”

Portland attorney Garrett Stephenson, who represents Paramount Gold Nevada Corp., said previously that the concerns raised by the two conservation groups would be addressed through the ongoing federal and state permitting process. 

The conservation group’s concerns about sage grouse would be tackled by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, he said.

Representatives from 1000 Friends of Oregon and the Oregon Natural Desert Association didn’t attend the planning commission session last week.

If both permit applications gain final approval from the county court, then the two conservations groups could file an appeal with the state.

Reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected] or 541-473-3377. 

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