published Saturday, May 17th, 2014

Permit draft could alter Tennessee prospecting

SUBMIT COMMENTS

Concerned citizens may submit comments in writing to: the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, Division of Water Resources; William R. Snodgrass Tennessee Tower, 312 Rosa L. Parks Ave., 11th Floor, Nashville, TN 37243.

Comments must be received by May 27.

Prospecting Permit
Prospecting Permit

Those with dreams of acquiring riches by finding gold in Tennessee streams have 10 days left to voice their concerns about a proposed permit that would require some prospectors to obtain state permission before hitting the water.

The idea of the permit is to protect local waters from commercial prospecting and environmentally dangerous techniques while still allowing those who prospect as a hobby to legally enjoy their time on the water in search of the rare gold traces that can be found.

A recent interest in gold prospecting spawned by reality TV shows depicting it as a means of financial profit is at least partially responsible for the need to further regulate an otherwise small-scale activity, said Jonathon Burr, who oversees surface mining for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

Public hearings about the draft were held in Knoxville, Jackson and Murfreesboro on Thursday. But the public comment period continues until May 27 when officials will take all the feedback they’ve gathered and revise the permit.

“Tourists were starting to come here [to prospect] and they were showing up in places we had never seen them before and it was starting to grow,” Burr said. “We were seeing people doing this in places that had endangered species and we were starting to see damage in some streams that had gone too far.”

As a result, the state composed the permit that classifies different types of prospecting.

The new standard would primarily regulate mechanized, or “Class 2,” forms of prospecting that could cause environmental harm in certain scenarios.

It would require prospectors who use dredges, high-bankers, powered sluices, trammels and other devices first submit a notice of intent and pay an annual maintenance fee.

The draft clarifies that no Class 2 prospecting would be allowed in any stream designated by the state or federal government as containing threatened or endangered aquatic species, deemed in need of management or designated as critical habitat.

For Richard Robinson, who is among a group that frequently visits Coker Creek in Monroe County, those stipulations are no problem. Robinson said most of the recreational prospectors he knows are actually conservationists. Like Burr, he’s noticed a rise in popularity of prospecting because of TV shows.

But, he said, the perception fueled by TV shows that prospectors use heavy equipment to wreak havoc on waterways does not describe the majority of those who will be affected by the prospecting permit.

“There are guys who will dredge all summer long and walk away with $25 of gold,” Robinson said. “It’s just a hobby. My take on recreational prospecting is exactly that. It’s recreational.”

That for-fun type of activity and the natural resources are what the state is trying to protect, Burr said.

“They just want to go out on the weekend and play. But we can’t let Tennessee streams become commercialized into Dollywood theme park rides,” Burr said. “So we’re trying to separate someone turning this into a commercial opportunity and making dough off of it — at the expense of your public resource — from these guys going out who don’t cause any harm.”

Contact staff writer David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731.

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