Tidewater Contractors’ main field headquarters for gravel mining operations lies right on the Rogue River at Wedderburn, on the North Bank Road, just east of Gold Beach. There are several buildings, quite a few stockpiles of gravel, an asphalt plant, and a large old mining pit filled with groundwater. Tidewater has mined at the Wedderburn site for many years; they have extracted gravel both above North Bank Road and down nearer the river.
The Wedderburn site is adjacent to North Slough on the Rogue’s upper estuary, and every winter for decades milky brown sediment poured off the site directly into the Slough. The company’s stormwater protections were completely inadequate; the Rogue and its world-class fishery were not protected at all. Finally, at ORCA’s urging, the Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI), which regulates stormwater management at gravel mines, took notice. Their inspection in summer 2011 found several problems with stormwater management at Wedderburn, even in the dry period.
DOGAMI inspected again in October 2011, and they found terrible things: brown stormwater swishing down the drains directly into the Slough; pools of muddy water all over the site pouring into ditches and on towards the Slough; and no cooperation or progress by Tidewater in dealing with the problems since the summer inspection. DOGAMI issued a Notice of Violation to Tidewater. In its cover letter DOGAMI said, uncompromisingly, “As stated in the October 14, 2011 Notice of Violation and Compliance Schedule, Tidewater must stop discharging turbid water to the Rogue River. This is not negotiable.”
Tidewater wrote a compliant letter in reply, outlining various measures it would take to reduce stormwater overflow to the river. However, these proposed “Best Management Practices” were all bandaids, and did not solve the problem. Again based on ORCA’s evidence, DOGAMI issued a second violation in February 2012, and then a third in March 2013, noting that the second one had still not been satisfied properly. Tidewater complied with all paperwork requirements required by DOGAMI, including a new Stormwater Pollution Control Plan completed by an engineer. However, the actual management practices on the ground continued to be superficial and ineffective. Chocoloate-colored stormwater poured into the Rogue’s upper estuary during the rainy season from the Wedderburn site, and ORCA prepared to sue the company under the Clean Water Act.
A change in Tidewater’s upper echelon management solved the standoff before ORCA had to file suit. The company re-engineered its stormwater system completely, erecting major new barriers and berms in the heavy stormwater flow areas. These eliminated Tidewater’s sedimented runoff from polluting the Rogue estuary. ORCA salutes Tidewater for finally meeting its obligations under the law to protect the Rogue River estuary, and DOGAMI for continuing to inspect, issue Notices of Violation, and insist that Tidewater fulfill its responsibilities.