In an event reminiscent of the standoff last year between Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and authorities representing the Bureau of Land Management, members of the group known as Oath Keepers have began to set up camp in Josephine County, Oregon, where the owners of a mining claim have become involved in a battle over property rights with the BLM.
The current owners of the Sugar Pine mining claim, who have battled with the BLM for some time now, said their rights to the claim have been grandfathered in, passed down for well over 100 years, but according to reports from a local ABC affiliate, the BLM said the claim’s documents are outdated and since the claim has changed owners at some point in the past, those documents are now obsolete.
However, unlike the Bundy dispute, the BLM isn’t telling the claim owners they must desert their operation altogether.
Jim Whittington, with the Bureau of Land Management, said the mining operations that are currently being performed at the claim are such that require more than just a basic mining claim. Whittington said they must either cut back the operation so that it falls in line with regulations or obtain the proper documents.
However, the owners of the claim are apparently concerned that authorities will shut down their mining operation without due process, and that’s why they called in the Oath Keepers.
“Because we are a constitutional group,” said Mary Emerick with Oath Keepers. “We defend the Constitution … and we are here just to make sure that they receive their Fifth Amendment rights which is due process.”
Whittington also added that the claim owners have the right to appeal, but there’s a process which must be followed in order to do so, one that can sometimes take weeks to complete.
Furthermore, the executive committee of the Galice Mining District, where the claim in question is located, contends that the BLM is out of order in its request because the district is “a local governing body … deriving its authority from the will of the United States Congress who recognized the long standing tradition of self government among miners and granted them with the right to create and enforce local rules and regulations pertaining to the location and development of their unique mineral properties.” In other words, the mining district is its own entity, with its own government and its own laws, so the BLM has no authority over the district, which predates the BLM by decades.
The committee also noted that the claim in question is one of the oldest in the country and much of the original paperwork is no longer even entirely legible.
The BLM said they have no plans to take the claim back by force and will not step in until the proper processes have been completed. Josephine County Sheriff Dave Daniel added that although he has acted as a mediator between the two parties, the sheriff’s department will not get involved unless the situation escalates and presents a threat to public safety.
The claim owners, who have hired an attorney, have until April 25 to either comply with the requests of the BLM or file an appeal.
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