Permitting Murphy's Bar

The long road to being legal
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"I'm looking forward to the water warming up a bit." Bob Flanagan said.

"That thin sheet of ice in the mornings doesn't bother me so much." I replied.

"That's because you don't get into the water until noon." Bob said.

"I'm just doing maintenance work. It's important to keep up with maintenance. At least until the sun gets over the ridge." I told him.

"You sure do a lot of maintenance everyday." Bob replied a bit snarkily.

The town of Hardrock is the closest place to Starvation Creek to get fuel. Even though they charge $1 more per gallon it beats doing the four hour round trip to the valley so it's worth it.

Hardrock sits about 6,000 feet in elevation. If it was in Colorado it would be full of the rich and famous, but it's in California in mining country. Spring comes late at that altitude and the rivers run pretty cold so it's a welcome break to go into town to get gas and stop at Murphy's Bar for a couple of over priced beers.

The bartender goes by the name of Rocky Stone. He says its his real name, but I don't ask if it is or not. In the town of Hardrock its best to be not too curious about things. Rocky bought the bar off of eBay. Not because he wanted to own and run a bar, but because he's a compulsive eBay addict and he'll buy anything if its the right price.

It's during the week so Bob and I are the only ones in the bar. It's a common secret in Hardrock that Bob and I are dredgers. In a town with a population under 50 it's hard to keep a secret. But we don't go around admitting to it.

Rocky leans forward on the bar and says in a conspiratorial whisper "A game warden stopped by last week and asked me if I knew of any dredging going on."

I look to my left and right then whisper back "What'd you tell him?"

"I said dredging was illegal." Rocky replied.

"Well, technically it's legal, but you would have to have a bushel full of permits." I told him.

"Why don't you get the permits?" Rocky asked.

Bob set down his beer long enought to add "I got my federal permit last week. Not that I'm dredging mind you, but I'm getting prepared."

I looked sideways at Bob, this was something I didn't know. I figure he was thinking if we got busted he could show the warden his permit then point upstream and say "But, I don't think that guy upstream is legal." Ever since the dredging ban Bob has tried really hard to get a permit. He's funny that way. He's got what the psychiatrists call a moral streak in him that makes him do the right thing. I've been working on him, but it doesn't seem to stick. He doesn't sleep well at night knowing he's not in full compliance with every regulation.

"If you have a federal permit, operating on federal land, in a national forest that should be good right?" Rocky asked as he slid a couple more of the local ale across the bar. The brand name is "Tailings" thought up by some marketing genius who didn't know tailings are what we throw away. We still think it's brewed by Schlitz.

"It's an Army Corps of Engineers permit for dredging." Bob says proudly.

"Was it a problem to get." I ask.

"Nope. The Army Corps didn't know what to do with me when I asked for a permit to run a 5" dredge. It seems their used to things a little bigger. If you can carry it on your back they don't think it's a dredge." Bob replied.

"It is the Army," I said, "They do big things like dredging harbors for ships, building dams and fighting wars."

"Yeah, I guess a little suction dredge isn't such a big thing. They issued the permit within a week of me asking. I think the only delay was their toner cartridge was out." Bob said.

"So now you could dredge legally?" Rocky asked.

"Not that we would be dredging illegally." I hastily added.

"How'd you get that crushed thumb?" Rocky asked looking at my swollen purple thumb with the missing nail.

"Chainsaw mishap." I replied.

Trying to head off anymore awkward questions Bob added "So, I got this federal permit which says I'm good by the Clean Water Act, but the state of California says I need more permits."

"What do the other permits do?" Rocky asked.

"Compliance with the Clean Water Act." Bob replied.

"I thought you just said the Army Corps said you were complying with the Clean Water Act?"

"It's complicated." Bob replied. "The Army Corps permit says I'm not putting anything harmful in the water, but California wants me to get a permit which says I'm not putting anything harmful in the water."

"Oh." Rocky said.

"So once I got my federal permit I called the Water Board and asked them for dredging permit." Bob stated.

"And?" I asked.

"They said I had to wait until 2017 or 2018 because the law says they can take a long time to develop a permitting system." Bob said.

"Sticklers for the letter of the law are they?" I asked.

"Apparently they're studying the problem." Bob said.

"What problem?" Rocky asked. "If the Army Corps says you're good to go by the Clean Water Act then it seems the California Water Board would just stamp it approved."

"Well, apparently I've also got to get permission from the Indian Tribes." Bob replied.

"Huh?" I asked.

"If you had read the law," Bob said, "You'd know the new permitting scheme requires a federal permit, a state water quality permit, Indian Tribe permission, environmental group consultation, a streambed alteration permit, a fish and game permit and any other such permit as the State may require, or think up."

"So which Indian Tribe has jurisdiction over Hardrock?" Rocky asked.

"It turns out historically none. Apparently they didn't live at 6,000 feet." Bob replied.

"So how are you going to get Indian Tribe permission?" Rocky asked.

"I wrote a letter to the Navajos out in Arizona asking them to take jurisdiction over Hardrock and give me a letter saying they were OK with me dredging." Bob responded.

"And what'd they say?" Rocky asked.

"They said I could keep Hardrock, but if I bought a pot for $50 they'd give me permission to dredge." Bob said.

"Do they even know what water is?" I asked.

"I didn't write the law, I'm just trying to comply with it." Bob said as he pushed his empty glass of Tailings across the bar and asked Rocky to fill it.