SB889 BILL ANALYSIS
|SENATE COMMITTEE ON NATURAL RESOURCES AND WATER
|Senator Fran Pavley, Chair
|2009-2010 Regular Session
BILL NO: SB 889 HEARING DATE: May 3, 2010
AUTHOR: Aanestad URGENCY: Yes
VERSION: As introduced CONSULTANT: Katharine Moore
DUAL REFERRAL: No FISCAL: Yes
SUBJECT: Vacuum or suction dredge equipment: refund for permits
BACKGROUND AND EXISTING LAW
Suction dredge mining uses a vacuum system to pull gravel and other materials up from a river, stream or lakebed. On-board equipment is used to process the collected matter and remove any trace amounts of gold before exhausting the remainder back into the water. A permit is required to operate suction dredge mining equipment in California. In the last decade, the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) sold approximately 3,200resident and additional non-resident suction dredge mining permits annually. In 2009, the permit for state residents cost$47, increasing to $185.25 for non-residents.
Recently, lawsuits and legislative action have required environmental review of suction dredge mining. On July 9, 2009,a court issued a preliminary injunction restricting DFG from issuing suction dredge mining permits (Leeon Hillman et al., vs. California Department of Fish and Game et al ., Alameda Co. Superior Ct., No. RG09- 434444) until the litigation was resolved or the court issued a new order. On August 6, 2009, suction dredge mining was suspended in any California river, stream or lake when SB 670 (Wiggins, c.62, Statutes of 2009) became law. There are limited exceptions to the mining ban and suction dredging operations for regular maintenance of energy or water supply management infrastructure, flood control or navigational purposes are still allowed. Suction dredge mining will remain prohibited until DFG completes an environmental impact report and updates its regulations, and the regulations take effect. DFG estimates the review will be completed in late summer of2011.
DFG issued 3,643 suction dredge mining permits in 2009. However, no suction dredge mining was allowed after August 6. Current law does not allow DFG to provide refunds to permit holders. Suction dredge permit fees are deposited in the Fish and Game Preservation Fund where they are used to support DFG functions. DFG does not specifically track employee time spent on suction dredge mining. The department estimates its costs for enforcement and permit processing at approximately $50,000 and$6,000, respectively, of the $175,000 collected in permit fees in 2008.
This bill directs DFG to refund upon request the 2009 permit fee paid by the suction dredge mining permit holder.
ARGUMENTS IN SUPPORT
According to the author, "the bill provides relief for the miners who bought their permits on the assumption they would be valid throughout the year. SB 889 is an issue of fairness to allow those miners to be reimbursed, upon request, for the cost of their prohibited permit."
ARGUMENTS IN OPPOSITION
Opponents of the bill "are supportive of providing miners pro-rated refunds of their permit fees but do not believe that new legislation is needed for this purpose. Instead, the Governor could direct DFG to provided refunds in the same manner as he did in 2008 and 2009 when the commercial salmon fishing seasons were cancelled." The opponents indicate they would support this approach.
Has the state refunded license fees in the past? In general, permit and license fees paid to DFG are not refundable. However, permit refunds have been given in the past to the commercial salmon fishery following the closure of the 2008 - 2009 and 2009- 2010 seasons. Governor Schwarzenegger specifically directed DFG to refund the commercial salmon fishing licenses purchased for those seasons prior to the closure of the salmon fishing season in his April 10, 2008 and April 21, 2009 proclamations declaring states of emergency. Further, DFG was specifically directed not to deduct any administrative charges prior to refunding the license fees.
It is not clear that the Governor had or has the emergency authority to order the commercial salmon fishing license refunds, but his order was not challenged.
Cost of refund: DFG estimates passage of SB 889 as introduced will cost approximately $270,000 ($253,000 in permit refunds, and the remainder in administrative costs).
Should the Legislature pro-rate the refund? The commercial salmon fishing licenses were refunded in full, and, unlike the dredgers, these licenses were purchased before the start of the cancelled seasons. Prior to 2009, a suction dredge mining permit purchased at any time was valid for the remainder of the calendar year. A suction dredge miner with a 2009 permit issued before the July 9 injunction had the opportunity to dredge prior to August 6. DFG has the date of issue readily available for approximately 83% of the permits. Of the remaining 17%, at least some - but not all - have the issue date on file. DFG would have to manually examine each of this sub-set of applications at additional expense. The ban on mining took effect with approximately 40% of 2009 remaining. According to the New49'ers, mining can occur throughout the year in different parts of California, although anecdotally the most mining activity is in August and September. DFG was unable to offer quantitative information on the seasonality of mining activity on which to base a prorata refund. Pro-rating the refund may cause DFG to incur additional administrative expense beyond that included above.
Other issues : The author has assured the committee that the bill will deal only with the issue of refunds. The committee, of course, would request that the bill return for review if other amendments are made. The author is aware of this circumstance. SUPPORT
The New 49'ers
Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors
Friends of the River
Klamath Tribe of California
Klamath River keeper
Pacific Federation of Fishermen's Associations