By Sarah Reijonen
for the GPAA
Tennessee State Director Richard Robinson celebrated a win for miners before stepping down as the state director and taking the position as the new GPAA Chapters Director.
After multiple trips to the drawing board and fours years since the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation put a stop to small-scale suction dredging in the state, TDEC has finally released a General Aquatic Resource Alteration Permit for miners. While the GPAA Coker Creek Chapter obtained an Individual ARAP permit in June 2015, TDEC did not release the statewide permit until December.
“We have a set of statewide general rules that apply all across the state. With the Individual ARAP you ask for some special rules that are a little more lax than the state. The General ARAP rules apply to everybody,” Robinson said. “You fill out a permit and there are no special notices or hearings that are needed after that. These are the rules that TDEC says are acceptable for anybody to use. You do have to buy the permit for Class 2 operations. For Class 1, manual prospecting, you don’t need a permit. Like with a hunting license, the rules apply across the board to everybody.”
The permit costs $50 and is good for five years with no extra maintenance fees, Robinson said.
“After five years, if things get better, they might be able to loosen restrictions. If TDEC looks and things have gotten worse, they might have to tighten them. It is our chance to shine and their chance to prove us wrong,” Robinson said.
Each permit is good for up to five segments of stream totaling no more than a mile, but miners can purchase more than one permit.
The best news is the precedent established with the issuance of a General ARAP, Robinson said.
“It makes me happy because it governs Class 2 prospecting, including dredging,” Robinson said. “They consider it de minimus, and that’s a good thing.”
It has already drawn the attention of neighboring Eastern states looking to lay the same groundwork to firm up guidelines for mining east of the Mississippi.
“I’ve had several reps call looking for this in their own states,” Robinson said. “It’s kind of a landmark.”
Despite this victory, the U.S. Forest Service continues to restrict prospectors from the national forests in Tennessee, Robinson said.
“The Forest Service has not come back with a resolution of its final interpretation of the law as it applies to prospecting in the Eastern states,” Robinson said. Until the Forest Service figures out its own vague language, the prospectors are limited to manual prospecting, or “very basic Class 1,” Robinson said. But, Robinson said he will continue to stay on the agency.
“It’s like the movie Shawshank Redemption where Andy Dufresne [Tim Robbins] writes letters to the state government every day until they give him a library — I do the same thing. I think they think I’ll just go away, but I won’t,” Robinson said.
Sarah Reijonen is a freelance writer based in California. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.