Gold rush on Dry Creek

After 25 years of pickaxes and wheelbarrows, the New Era Mine is suddenly a big operation— and its neighbors aren’t happy

MAJOR MINING<br>This aerial photo was taken in early February, when crews were building the New Era Mine’s big new processing plant.

This aerial photo was taken in early February, when crews were building the New Era Mine’s big new processing plant.

Thar’s gold in that thar canyon:
According to the California Division of Mines and Geology, the coarse fluviatile bedrock-type sediments that underlie the Tuscan Formation in Dry Creek Canyon are the largest local example of this geological phenomenon, which is found in many parts of Butte County, including Butte Creek and Little Butte Creek canyons.

A conflict as old as the American West—gold miners vs. settlers—is playing itself out in a pretty little oak-dotted canyon just south of Paradise and east of Butte College.

Carved out of the Tuscan Formation by spring-fed Dry Creek, the canyon is accessible via a winding gravel road that parallels the creek for much of the way. About 20 country homes—some old and comfortably funky, others newer and more expensive—are spread out on 10- and 20-acre parcels along both sides of the creek, each claiming its own version of country heaven for its owners.

The road ends after about three miles at the 18-acre New Era Mine, which Ronald Logan and his wife, Betty, have operated since 1982, though mining was done in the area long before.

Until recently, New Era was strictly a pickaxe-and-wheelbarrow operation that Logan worked alone. But now, with gold selling for nearly $1,000 an ounce, the mine has the potential to be seriously lucrative, and Logan has gotten some big-money investors on his side who’ve sunk, he says, $15 million into it.

After a quarter-century of going nowhere, his little mine has turned into a major operation.

This hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Logans’ canyon neighbors. They’ve never been happy about having a mine upstream, and those who were around in 1982 opposed the original application for a mining permit, though not strenuously. As long as the mine was small, they thought, they could live with it.

But since May 2007, they have seen a wholesale increase in the number of trucks going up and down their narrow road. They’ve noticed major building activity at the mine site. They’ve seen the creek running muddy more often. Who, they wondered, was behind this sudden spurt of enterprise?

They started looking into it, and discovered that the mining was being done by an outfit named North Continent Land and Timber Inc. They also found that one of North Continent’s two principals of record has a history of twice being involved in shady stock dealings, once in Canada and once in this country.

They’ve called the mine’s activities to the attention of state and county officials, with mixed results.

On Dec. 17, the Regional Water Quality Control Board, noting “significant land clearing activities … that exposed large areas of bare soil to erosion, with the threatened discharge of waste to Dry Creek,” issued a cleanup-and-abatement order. Since then, the operators have “responded quite well” to the order, Jim Pedri, with the Redding office of the RWQCB, confirmed.

Similarly, Butte County officials have determined that the mine is out of compliance with its original permit and is in violation of the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act. The county has issued an order for the miners to submit a revised mining permit, an updated reclamation plan and sufficient bonding to provide financial assurance and scheduled a hearing before the Planning Commission for next Thursday (March 13).

In the meantime, the mine is running like there’s no tomorrow. As Ron Logan said during a recent phone interview, the money to be made with gold is “really good news, and we’re going to get it.”

Logan is a blunt-spoken backwoods miner who doesn’t like his neighbors or the government sticking their noses in his business. Miners have been using Dry Creek Road for 150 years, he says defiantly, and now all these newcomers have moved in and want to stop the mining. “What’s happened to our freedom?” he asked, his voice rising.

“There’s so much here,” Logan said, not only gold but also platinum. “It’ll take 10 to 15 years to mine the 18 acres we’ve got now,” and there’s more gold in the soil just west of the current site. “North Continent gets 80 percent and I get 20 percent,” he exulted. “I haven’t seen a penny of it yet,” he added, laughing.

The mine is up to 20 employees now, he said, and “they all make good money.”

This photo, taken this week, shows the completed plant. The site occupies 18 acres that stretch for 300 yards along the west side of Dry Creek.

Photo By Robert Speer

He bemoaned the way the operators had to “jump through hoops” but said they were doing all that was required of them. “We know we can’t dirty that crick,” he said.

Logan invited me to come out to the mine to talk further with him, but by the time I arrived an hour later, he’d changed his tune. He met me on the road, pulling his truck up next to mine. “I’ve got no comment,” he said. “They told me not to talk to you, so you might as well just turn around.”

It’s unclear who owns North Continent, but two names are associated with it: Floyd Leland Ogle and Frank Noland.

An Internet search showed Ogle is president and CEO of a company called Aspirion Inc., “a consolidated holding and consulting company dedicated to finance and product development.” Based in Tampa, Fla., it lists North Continent Land and Timber as one of its clients. Noland is listed as a vice president of North Continent, which has an office on Cohasset Road in Chico and is listed in the phone book. (Repeated calls went unanswered, and there was no answering machine.)

In 1987, Ogle pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to defraud the public, possession of stolen goods and obstructing justice in British Columbia. According to newspaper accounts, Ogle and seven others concocted a scheme to raise the value of stock in an assetless company called Audit Resources Inc., from a nickel to $8. Ogle was captured as he was about to leave the country with $440,000 in a briefcase.

Ogle was banned from trading for 15 years and sentenced to three years in prison; he served nearly a year in jail before being deported.

Later, in early 1999, the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission charged him with manipulating the stock of an Arkansas-based company called Exsorbet Industries. He was president of the company at the time.

According to the online business journal, the complaint charged that, between November 1993 and February 1996, Ogle and four co-conspirators inflated Exsorbet’s stock price from $1 to $13 through a series of bribes and cross-trades between the United States and Canada. The complaint also accused the men of artificially fixing the stock’s price at $5 when it opened on Feb. 4, 1994.

In June 2000, the U.S. District Court in Chicago ordered Ogle and his co-conspirators to pay disgorgements and civil penalties totaling $2.3 million. Ogle’s share was slightly more than $1 million. The consent judgment did not include an admission of guilt to the charges.

Virtually everyone who lives in Dry Creek Canyon other than the Logans is opposed to the increased activity at the mine. They all plan to attend the Planning Commission meeting March 13, and they hope this article will shine some light on the issue, but they don’t want their names published.

That’s because they’re afraid of Ron Logan. The man has a temper, they say, and when he gets angry, he yells and screams. Once, they charge, he made an effigy of someone he was mad at and hung it from a tree. And he’s got guns and has been known to shoot them. It’s not that people think he’s likely to shoot them, but they admit to feeling intimidated.

I didn’t get the chance to ask Logan if this was a fair characterization. He seemed friendly enough in our brief encounter. Either way, the feelings of intimidation are a sign of the alienation that has settled into Dry Creek Canyon over the years.

The Logans’ neighbors do intend to ask some questions at the meeting. Why, they want to know, has Logan been allowed to operate all these years without having to meet any of the requirements of his original permit, such as putting up a reclamation bond, submitting annual reports, and obtaining further review from the Planning Commission before expanding operations?

In fact, county documents show that for at least 15 years, from 1993 to 2007, the Logans completely ignored the requirements of their original permit and the county in turn ignored the mine.

The Planning Commission will have several options, said Chuck Thistlethwaite, an associate planner. It could enable the mine to continue on a “path to compliance” by amending its original use permit, submitting a new reclamation plan and putting up a satisfactory assurance bond. (He mentioned $200,000 as a possibility.) The commission also could assess penalties to the date of violation—as much as $5,000 per day. And, finally, it could revoke the original permit or go after the mine as a public nuisance.

Any decision it makes can be appealed to the Board of Supervisors, he emphasized.

Thistlethwaite agreed that it was highly unusual for a project to get this far along without having permits in place. The commission meeting, he said, promised to be “a very interesting discussion.”