Forest Service wants to ban mining along Russian River

Posted: Tuesday, February 26, 2002

KENAI (AP) -- A proposal by the U.S. Forest Service to prohibit mining along a stretch of the Russian River is drawing criticism from a Cooper Landing man.

The land in question is a 2,998-acre corridor along the Russian River stretching from Lower Russian Lake to Upper Russian Lake. The Forest Service says the area is more valuable to the public as a recreational area than as a mine.

''The area isn't marketable,'' said Carol Huber, a minerals specialist with the Forest Service.

Huber said small travertine deposits exist in the area, but a Forest Service examination in the mid-1980s revealed no commercial use was feasible. Travertine is a form of limestone.

But Sherman ''Red'' Smith of Cooper Landing thinks the area can be profitable. He says the Forest Service's finding is invalid anyway.

''If they can say that about travertine, why not gold?'' Smith asked. He believes the area could be profitable for extracting the lime or possibly other minerals.

Smith thinks the government is just trying to squeeze him out of the area.

''(The federal government's) underlying motivation is to give them absolute control of the transportation corridor,'' Smith told the Peninsula Clarion.

''Ever since the feds decided to manage Alaska, they've tried to lock up the transportation corridors. Every time they see the opportunity for development, they try to lock up the land,'' he said.

The Forest Service was holding an open house on the issue in Anchorage on Monday. Another was planned Tuesday in Soldotna.

Huber said the issue was strictly the land's value to the public.

''It's no value (for mining) versus excellent values for habitat, archaeology, fisheries and recreation,'' said Huber.

''There's already a withdrawal in place that covers from the campground up to Lower Russian Lake. What this does is takes it up to Upper Russian Lake. The other side of the river is already off limits to mining,'' she said. That side is in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

''We just can't let him mine up there. It's a no-brainer,'' she said.

Smith thinks the state could do more to protect his rights, but isn't stepping in because his cause is politically unpopular.

The Bureau of Land Management must give final approval for the Forest Service proposal to go into effect.

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