NEAR MERLIN, Ore. -- A land dispute is creating tension between miners in Josephine County and the Bureau of Land Management. The owners of the mines say they are afraid their rights to due process will not be respected and have now called in reinforcements.
The Oath Keepers of Josephine County are gathering at a piece of property near Merlin. They're in the process of setting up a staging area, in order to step in if they are needed by the Sugar Pine miners.
“Because we are 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.”
The owners called them in to help protect the property that they have mined for more than 100 years. The miners say documents they have grandfathered-in their surface rights to the property.
But the BLM says the documents are outdated, and at some point, the property has changed hands which cancels out the grandfather process. Now, the BLM says the miners have to tone down their mining operation to stay in line with the regulations.
“We’ve sent them those letters,” said BLM’s Jim Whittington. “They also have the right to appeal our notice, that it requires either a plan of operation or notice, and some informal contacts with their lawyer…it sounds like they may appeal. So if they appeal, that starts another administrative appeal process.”
The BLM says they have no intention of stepping in and that it will be a process before any action is taken. But even so, the Oath Keepers are going to make sure of that in the interest of protecting the miner's constitutional rights.
“Sometimes that's going to take days or even weeks, and we are preparing for this to potentially last that long,” said Emerick.
Josephine County Sheriff Dave Daniel also says he has been acting as a mediator between the land owners and the BLM. At this point, the only reason the Sheriff's Office would step in would be for public safety if the situation escalated.