Change in BLM Maintenence Fees for Association Placer Claims - UPDATED April 19th

April 18th, 2012

The NorthWest Mining Association is reporting possible changes to BLM's maintence fee structure on Association Placer claims. They report that: "effective with the claim maintenance fees due September 1, each 20 acre placer claim will require a separate claim fee. Association placer claims will require a claim fee for each 20 acres or fraction thereof. Thus, a 160 acre placer claim will require 8 claim fee payments instead of one."

Here is the language of that change:

SEC. 430. Section 10101 of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 (30 U.S.C. 28f) is amended

(1) in subsection (a) (A) by striking so much as precedes the second sentence and inserting the following:



The holder of each unpatented lode mining claim, mill site, or tunnel site, located pursuant to the mining laws of the United States on or after August 10, 1993, shall pay to the
Secretary of the Interior, on or before September 1 of each year, to the extent provided in advance in appropriations Acts, a claim maintenance fee of $100 per claim or site, respectively.";


(B) by adding at the end the following:


"The holder of each unpatented placer mining claim located pursuant to the mining laws of the United States located before, on, or after August
10, 1993, shall pay to the Secretary of the Interior, on or before September 1 of each year, the claim maintenance fee described in subsection (a), for each 20 acres of the placer
claim or portion thereof."; 


(2) in subsection (b), by striking the first sentence and inserting the following: "The claim maintenance fee under subsection (a) shall be paid for the year in which the location
is made, at the time the location notice is recorded with the Bureau of Land Management."


Note: Jefferson Mining District recently contacted the Oregon, California and Nevada offices of the BLM to authenticate and clarify this information.  A return response from Mineral Leasing Specialist, Sonia Santillan, of the Solid Minerals Division at the Oregon State BLM office was quite helpful and has confirmed that the news is correct, but remarks that the initial interpretation of the change was not entirely correct. 

She remarks: "There will be a change in the way the fees for placer mining claims is computed and will be based on the total acreage in the claim.  The amount of the maintenance fee is not reverting back to $100, however, and is still $140 in accordance with current regulations.  The Act reflected the original amount that was initiated for the maintenance fee since it was quoting the original maintenance fee act. As requested, I am providing a copy of the Act for your information.  The BLM will be publishing updated regulations soon in the Federal Register to implement the statutory change."

The "act" that Ms. Santillan refers to is Section 430 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012, which on a side note also failed to appropriate funding to patents which were not filed prior to September 30th, 1994, just as has been done since that date.

Under this new policy, it should be noted that the annual maintenence fee for a 160 acre Association Placer mining claim will be a whopping $1120 per year!

In a shared communication with Tom Kitchar, who is President of Waldo Mining District, Ms. Santillan also remarked extensively on Kitchar's questions about the small miner waiver, which allows for miners with not more than ten (10) claims to sign a form that waives the related fees. She remarked that the new agency policy would have no impact on the small miner waiver, nor would the new fees be retro-active and require more money for the previous year. She also noted that once the new regulations are published, any new filings of association placers would be required to pay the new fee ($140 per 20 acres). Any miner paying their fees now will also pay the new rate since the fee is for 2013.

In a follow-up to Jefferson Mining District, Ms. Santillan also remarked: "We also donít want claimants to be surprised and that is why we are hoping to get the regulations published as soon as possible.  You should also know that we will offer a cure period that if a claimant pays the maintenance fee at the previous rate for a placer claim, they will be given the opportunity (30 days) to pay the remaining amount due.  This cure period will be for those payments due on or before September 1, 2012 for the 2013 assessment year.  Also, another thing you might want to note is that since September 1 falls on a Saturday this year, claimants will have until Tuesday, September 4 (Monday, September 3 is a holiday) to make their payments.  So, any payment made on or before September 4 will be acceptable and if itís not for the correct amount (for a placer claim), the claimants will be given a 30-day notice to cure.  Payments for lodes, mill sites and tunnel sites continue to be $140 per claim or site and full payment must be received by the due date."

Additional research by miner-researchers in Jefferson Mining District have uncovered some alarming provisions found in the Obama Administration's 2013 Fiscal Year 2013 Budget report which calls for the implentation of assorted legislation that would entirely dismantle the General Mining Act of 1872, several of which provisions have already been administratively enacted. 

On March 20th, 2012, BLM Director Bob Abbey gave testimony to the House Natural Resources Committee and the Energy and Minerals Subcommittee which supported many of the provisions found in the FY 2013 Budget report.

In support of the far reaching, draconian "reform" of Hard Rock Mining outlined by the Obama Administration's FY 2013 Budget and also by House Resolution 3446, Abbey remarked that: 

"The budget includes legislative proposals to address abandoned mine land (AML) hazards on both public and private lands and to provide a fair return to the taxpayer from hardrock production on Federal lands. The first component addresses abandoned hardrock mines across the country through a new AML fee on hardrock production. Just as the coal industry is held responsible for abandoned coal sites, the Administration proposes to hold the hardrock mining industry responsible for abandoned hardrock mines. The proposal will levy an AML fee on all uranium and metallic mines on both public and private lands that will be charged on the volume of material displaced after January 1, 2013. 

The receipts will be distributed by BLM through a competitive grant program to restore the Nation's most hazardous hardrock AML sites on both public and private lands using an advisory council comprising of representatives of Federal agencies, States, Tribes, and non-government organizations. The advisory council will recommend objective criteria to rank AML projects to allocate funds for remediation to the sites with the most urgent environmental and safety hazards. The proposed hardrock AML fee and reclamation program would operate in parallel to the coal AML reclamation program, as two parts of a larger effort to ensure that the Nation's most dangerous coal and hardrock AML sites are addressed by the industries that created the problems. 

The budget also includes a legislative proposal to institute a leasing process under the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 for certain minerals (gold, silver, lead, zinc, copper, uranium, and molybdenum) currently covered by the General Mining Law of 1872. After enactment, mining for these metals on Federal lands would be governed by a leasing process and subject to annual rental payments and a royalty of not less than five percent of gross proceeds. Half of the royalty receipts would be distributed to the states in which the leases are located and the remaining half would be deposited in the Treasury. Pre-existing mining claims would be exempt from the change to a leasing system, but would be subject to increases in the annual maintenance fees under the General Mining Law of 1872. However, holders of pre-existing mining claims for these minerals could voluntarily convert their claims to leases. The Office of Natural Resources Revenue in the Department of the Interior will collect, account for, and disburse the hardrock royalty receipts."

Mention that the proposed hardrock AML program would operate in parallel of a coal AML program is interesting for the simple fact that the day before giving Abbey's (obviously pre-planned) testimony, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, announced a merger of The Bureau of Land Management with the Office of Surface Mining despite earlier reports that such a merger was not taking place. OSM is the agency responsible for the management of coal mining reclamation. As well, BLM has been ramping up its existing AML program that closes historic hard rock mines. Jefferson Mining District has reported on that topic in the past and has been actively working to monitor the AML program.

Considering the fact that BLM appears to be slowly implementing Abbey's idealogy, it appears that the very core of the 1872 Mining Act is under immediate threat and that a time will come when there is a hard push to convert locatable minerals into a leaseable status, thereby destroying the granted rights in the Mining Law and lowering miner-settlers to mere renters or tenants.

Laura Skaer of the North West Mining Association testified at the same hearings as Director Abbey, and remarks by e-mail that: "My view is that the Presidentís budget proposals are not going anywhere. They are dead on arrival in both the House and Senate. They wonít get a hearing in the House as long as the Republicans are in control. None of the proposals in the Presidentís budget can be implemented administratively. They require an Act of Congress and that isnít happening under the current make up of Congress. We have to remain vigilant and willing to fight for mining rights. Electing a new president of the United States and more pro natural resource development Members of Congress should be a high priority for everyone involved in mining."

We asked Ms. Santillan outright if the changes which are yet to be published contain anything pointing to possible conversions from granted minerals to leasable minerals. In response, she clarified her position at BLM, noting: "I work mainly with mining claims but am assigned to the WO-320 office which is the Division of Solid Minerals.  Our Division includes coal leasing and the leasing of other solid minerals.  I am the contact for all the state offices when it comes to mining claim location, recordation and maintenance and the majority of my time is spent on locatable minerals." She then added that "As of this moment, I know of no change to convert certain locatable minerals to leasable minerals under the 1920 Act."

Despite this, it will be very important for miners everywhere to actively monitor the "bright ideas" of Abbey and others when it comes to radical changes in the Mining Law. Ultimately, we must remain alert and vigilant, keeping watch as guards against those who desire to undermine the mining rights which were granted to the American people by our forefathers in 1866 and 1872. 


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