MAC: Mines and Communities

USA: Mine "fever" may be on the rise, but so is peoples' resistance

Published by MAC on 2016-03-31
Source: AP, National Observer, Bozeman Daily, others

A growing number of  proposed mining projects across the United States  are meeting with determined  opposition by regional and national constituencies,  alleging that the companies concerned pose significant threats  to land and water resources and quality, wildlife, tourism and local businesses, and the environment at large.

The list of potential corporate offenders includes:

* Red Flat Nickel Corp., a Portland firm owned mostly by a company in the United Kingdom, wants to build a nickel mine near the headwaters of the Smith River, famed for its pristine water quality. Despite public opposition, the company doesn’t seem to be backing down.( A Red Flat Nickel Mine 2014 campaign video can be seen here: )

* Constantine Metal Resources, a mineral exploration company based in Vancouver, says the Palmer Project is rich in copper and zinc as well as gold and silver. If developed, claim critics,  the mine would sit approximately 60 kilometres upstream from Haines, Alaska, adjacent to the Klehini River. During the winter, over 3,500 bald eagles flock there, but that could all change dramatically, if the mine moves ahead. Japan’s Dowa Metals and Mining Co. is backing the company.

* Canada-based Lucky Minerals Inc. wants to explore for gold near Emigrant Peak,  and similar exploration is being proposed near Jardine, by Washington-based Crevice Mining Group. Both projects are close to the famed Yellowstone National Park in Montana.  A new coalition. comprising  around a hundred land business owners has been formed to fight the proposals which,they say would have wide-reaching negative effects on tourism, business and quality of life.

* Virginia Uranium is trying to end the state's decades-long ban on the mining of the radioactive ore. Although a federal judge in December 2015 rejected the company's bid to lift the 1980s ban, last month attorneys for Virginia Uranium filed a notice of appeal to the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, aiming to gain access to what it claims is  a 119-million-pound deposit of uranium beneath the rolling hills of Southside Virginia.

* Ascot Resources wants to search for copper, silver, gold and other minerals by drilling 63 holes at 23 different sites at Goat Mountain, just north of the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument boundary near the headwaters of Colorado's Green River.

Senator Maria Cantwell -a member of  Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee - has described hardrock mining and exploratory drilling of lands purchased for conservation and recreation purposes, as “not sound public policy.”

A Canadian mine threatens the 'heart and soul' of an Alaskan community

Charles Mandel

30 March 2016

Awestruck by the glacier-streaked mountains jutting from the ground and the powerful flowing Chilkat River slicing through the deep valley, Joe Ordonez moved to Haines, Alaska in 1987.

Now, 29 years later, Ordonez is fighting to preserve that same natural grandeur - which includes a world-renowned bald eagle preserve - from a proposed copper, zinc, silver and gold mine upstream.

“It’s a terrible location for a mine,” says Ordonez, who previously worked as a naturalist on cruise ships, work which took him from the Amazon to Antarctica, and who today operates a tour guide company in the region.

“I’ve worked in all seven continents. I’ve seen the most amazing places in the world and here’s one of them right where I live in Haines, Alaska. It’s just not worth the risk."

Where many see an unspoiled paradise brimming with wildlife, others see money and minerals.

Constantine Metal Resources, a mineral exploration company based in Vancouver, British Columbia, believes the proposed mine location - known as the Palmer Project - is rich in copper and zinc as well as gold and silver.

Backing the penny stock company is Japan’s Dowa Metals and Mining Co, a multinational that is providing Constantine with $22-million in exploration funding over four years in return for a 49 per cent interest in the project.

Executives from Constantine did not return calls from National Observer.

If developed, the mine would sit approximately 60 kilometres upstream from Haines, adjacent to the Klehini River. The Klenhini is a major tributary of the Chilkat.

Not far from the Palmer Project the two rivers merge and at the confluence sits the ancient Tlingit community of Klukwan, whose name translates to mean eternal village.

Ordonez describes the village as one of the longest continually inhabited places in the Americas. “The people there today still catch fish right off their back door and live on it.”

The wild salmon running through the Chilkat don’t just feed the folks in Klukwan and Haines. A combination of natural forces near Klukwan leaves the water ice-free in the winter months, allowing chum salmon to spawn late in the year.

In turn the salmon attract thousands of eagles to feed. The natural phenomenon led to the creation in 1982 of the 48,000 acre Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve. During the winter over 3,500 bald eagles flock there from as far away as British Columbia, the Yukon and Oregon.

It’s not unusual for tourists to the area to see up to 1,000 eagles at a time.

Ordonez points out that the leading cause of eagle mortality is winter starvation. “So this is a critical area of survival for bald eagles.”

But that could all change if the mine moves ahead.

Ordonez frets that a catastrophic failure, such as that which took place at Mount Polley, might occur.

Described as the worst environmental mining disaster in Canadian history, an estimated 24 million cubic metres of mining waste and water broke free of the Mount Polley mine tailings pond on August 4, 2014.

The mix of toxic metals and water flowed into Hazeltine Creek and then Quesnel Lake, a critical salmon watershed.

The Palmer Project would require a similar kind of tailings pond.

Another concerned area resident is Gershon Cohen. Originally from Philadelphia, Cohen arrived in Alaska in 1983 after seeing it for the first time the previous year. “I just fell in love with the place and came back the next year,” he says

The Chilkat River runs right past Cohen’s front door. Across the way he can hear the roar of the 1,000 foot waterfall that plunges off the glacier on the mountains. “The place is alive with salmon, eagles, bears and moose,” Cohen says.

“The Chilkat River is the heart and soul of this community.”

But Cohen views the mine as a threat to this unspoiled region. “Once they build the tailings pond and they’ve got millions of gallons of waste water held behind an earthen dam, there’s basically a sword hanging over the heads of the community forever, because that tailings pond will have to be maintained in perpetuity.”

Cohen has a Ph.d in environmental policy and specializes in water pollution issues. He points out that it doesn’t even necessarily take a catastrophic spill to end the salmon run.

If any minerals should leach into the Klehini from the mine site and then into the Chilkat, they could cause the salmon to become disoriented and leave them unable to determine where they should properly lay their eggs.

“Then that’s the end of the run,” Cohen says.

“It’s a very fragile system and we’re very concerned that having a large-scale mine in the area would threaten that for many, many years to come.”

For its part, on its website Constantine says, “Not only is protecting the environment, fishery, fauna, and water quality extremely important to Constantine, it is the law.”

The company says it has used a third party since 2008 to collect water quality data in order to establish baseline environmental conditions.

Beyond that, Constantine notes that before it can successfully establish a fully operational mine, “lengthy and detailed studies” will be required on everything from air and water quality to wetlands and wildlife.

They also promise community consultation and socioeconomic studies before the mine gains its permits and begins construction.

The Village of Klukwan isn’t waiting and taking any chances. With help from Gershon, the community has applied to the state to have the Chilkat declared an Outstanding Natural Resource Water, which would give the river protected status.

But the process in Alaska to have a river made into an Outstanding Natural Resource Water doesn’t exist and is holding up the nomination while the state legislature debates how to move ahead.

The nomination has polarized people in Haines, a town of 2,500 containing a mix of fishers, tourism operators, telecommuters, retirees, as well as a number of mine employees and contractors and suppliers.

A Haines Chamber of Commerce survey found that roughly half the chamber’s members oppose the designation.

Constantine notes that it paid out $198,848 in payroll in 2013 to its 10 employees and another $276,110 to contractors and suppliers. And in 2014, the Palmer Project provided nearly $3-million of direct economic benefit to the Alaska economy, including $1.47 million to Haines.

None of that deters either Gershon and Ordonez, who are determined to spread the word of the threat to their beloved wilderness region.

In fact, Gershon calls Constantine’s contributions to the economy “a farce".

“We have an exploratory company based in Canada coming to a small Alaskan town, throwing money at civic causes, showing up at fundraisers, hiring a few locals to do construction and core drilling jobs in the summer and working the PR angles hard to convince people they care about our community.”

Gershon calls the company’s promises and assurances meaningless. He points out that as an exploratory company Constantine will likely have nothing to do with the design and operation of the mine. “They will be off looking for another ore body to develop.”

Gershon says he’s not opposed to mining, but doesn’t believe in placing one in critical fisheries habit.

There’s very few places left in the world that have wild salmon and we’re lucky enough to be one of them.”

Similarly, Ordonez recalls living in Bellingham, Washington where he heard stories about how people “could walk across the river on the backs of the salmon in the old days."

Now he says the state spends millions just to rehabilitate a stream.

“Here we’ve got a place where we don’t have to bring things back because the salmon are there right now.”

Ordonez even wrote a book last year titled Where Eagles Gather in order to bring attention to the eagle preserve and the threat it faces. According to Ordonez, eagles are a symbol of wilderness.

“They are a symbol of something that’s disappearing. We need to gather together and fight this and protect it.”

Mining company still fighting to drill near famed river

Zach Urness

Statesman Journal

25 March 2016

GASQUET, CALIF. — Efforts to build a nickel mine near the headwaters of a river system famed for pristine water quality have gone quiet during the past year, but they haven’t gone away.

Red Flat Nickel Corp., a Portland firm owned mostly by a company in the United Kingdom, has continued to pursue a mining project in the Smith River watershed despite pressure from lawmakers and federal agencies.

The company proposed exploratory drilling in 2012 to determine the feasibility of building an open pit mine on its 2,350-acre “Cleopatra” site in southwest Oregon’s Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

The proposal ignited a firestorm due to its close location to the North Fork Smith River, a stream known for clear water, wildlife habitat and recreation.

The North Fork begins in Oregon, crosses the California border and joins the larger river system near Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.

“People come from around the world to vacation in this beautiful country, and it makes no sense to locate a strip mine near a river that means so much to so many,” said Grant Werschkull, executive director of the Smith River Alliance in Crescent City.

Concern about the project led to a two-year ban on new mining claims and a halt to current mining on 100,000 acres of federal lands in southwest Oregon — including the Cleopatra site.

The ban, known as a mineral withdrawal, was at the request of Oregon lawmakers and is intended to preserve the river’s condition while legislation in Congress had the chance to make the withdrawal permanent.

That legislation was introduced in the House by Reps. Jared Huffman, D-California, and Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, and in the Senate by Oregon’s Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley. The bill wouldn’t terminate the mining project, but it would impose a more “rigorous validation process before mining is allowed to proceed.”

Red Flat called the withdrawal an “unlawful overreach” in documents submitted through the international law firm Squire, Patton and Boggs.

“The proposal … directly contravenes the national interest by improperly limiting access to domestic sources of minerals that are critical to the U.S. infrastructure,” the document said. Red Flat Nickel Corp. “has suffered years of administrative foot-dragging as a result of political pressure … to prevent mining on the subject acreage.”

Along with nickel, the company is looking for cobalt, chromium and scandium, said Obie Strickler, an Oregon geologist who has worked as consultant for Red Flat.

“These are very important minerals that just about everyone uses on a daily basis for phones, computers, and lots of other things in everyday life,” Strickler said in an interview last January. “The project would create a high economic benefit in Curry County, and there’s value to doing it (in the United States), because we have tougher environmental rules.

“This would be a very well-engineered project with safeguards put into place to stop any degradation of the environment.”

Strickler’s appeal has mostly fallen on deaf ears. Public comments in writing and at town hall meetings in Gold Beach and Grants Pass have been overwhelmingly opposed.

Despite that sentiment, Red Flat doesn’t appear to be backing down.

“They have not gone away,” said Barbara Ullian, coordinator for Friends of the Kalmiopsis, which opposes the mining.

“These lands are so important — and have such high ecological value — that to consider forever altering them through this very destructive mining is just heartbreaking.”

Yellowstone-Area Business Owners Oppose Mining Near The Park

Edward O'Brien

25 March 2016

A group of businesses north of Yellowstone National Park has formed a new coalition to fight two proposed gold exploration projects in the area.

"Our fear of the potential pollution is at a very high level."

That’s Colin Davis.

He and his wife own Chico Hot Springs about 30 miles north of the park.

Davis says the Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition is a group of about 100 Park County land and business owners opposing both gold projects.

Lucky Minerals wants to explore for gold in Emigrant Gulch in the Custer Gallatin National Forest.

The Crevice Mining Group wants to explore for gold near Jardine.

The companies say the projects would not harm the environment and would create jobs and potentially could pump millions of dollars into the state’s economy.

Colin Davis doesn’t buy it.

"One of the fears is that you’ll bring a social/economic environment similar to the Bakken which is not something this (area) wants and/or needs. If what they bring destroys the economy that already exists which is tourism dependent, tech dependent and agricultural dependent, what are those (mining) jobs worth?"

Davis says the new Gateway Business Council Coalition will ask Montana’s elected officials to oppose these proposed mining projects.

More than 100 businesses against two Paradise Valley mines

Lewis Kendall

25 March 2016

LIVINGSTON — Dozens of business owners and community members gathered in Livingston Thursday to formally announce a coalition protesting two proposed mining explorations in Paradise Valley.

About 75 people packed Katabatic Brewery to hear businesspeople discuss the proposals, which they fear would increase industrialization, expose residents and the environment to harmful pollutants, and maim the local economy.

“We all have a common thread of concern,” said Katabatic Brewery co-owner LaNette Jones. “It’s going to hurt all of us as business owners.”

More than 100 businesses, including some of the largest employers in Park County, and 1,300 individuals have pledged to be a part of the Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition since it was first announced in January.

The group’s more high-profile members include PrintingForLess, Xanterra Parks and Resorts, as well as several Bozeman businesses, among them Northfork Financial, Bozeman Center for the Healing Arts and HeadRoom Corporation.

“It shows how involved everyone is and how important it is to everyone in this area,” said Karrie Kahle, special events coordinator at Chico Hot Springs Resort & Day Spa, who has been collecting signatures. “Our ultimate endgame is to permanently protect the public lands.”

The projects in question include a proposal by Canadian-based Lucky Minerals Inc. to search for gold near Emigrant Peak, as well as a similar exploration near Jardine by Washington-based Crevice Mining Group.

Lucky’s project is currently under review by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, which is also considering what level of review to assign the Crevice proposal.

Opponents say the potential mines would have wide-reaching negative effects on tourism, business and quality of life in the area.

“We banded together because there’s a threat that this valley will change forever and never go back,” said Chico Hot Springs Resort owner Colin Davis. “(The proposals) threaten our future and our children’s future.”

“People will not come here; they will go to Idaho and Wyoming,” added Tracy Raich, owner of Raich Montana Properties. “I believe Yellowstone is more valuable than gold or any money that I could ever make. That’s the truth.”

Speakers also pointed to the diversity of its coalition, one that crosses traditional political and industry divides, as a testament to the universal disapproval of the proposed explorations.

“We want to show that this is a non-political issue,” said Kahle. “This isn’t a Republican thing or a Democratic thing; this is a community issue.”

The coalition hopes to continue gathering members and signatures with its newly launched website, while also putting pressure on local and state politicians through letters and face-to-face meetings.

“Collectively, we want them to hear our voices now and fight for us. We’re going to send a message that everyone who put them in office supports this,” said Davis. “We’re just getting started.”

Coalition businesses as of March 21, provided by the YGBC:

2nd Street Bistro, Livingston
A Naturalist’s World, Gardiner
Absaroka Dogsled Treks, Pray
Amy Petrulis Counseling Services, Livingston
Anderson Ranch, Emigrant
Arrowhead Pest Management, Emigrant
Bear Creek Council, Gardiner
Big Wild Adventures, Inc., Emigrant
Bozeman Center for the Healing Arts, Inc., Bozeman
Brant Oswald Fly Fishing Services, Livingston
Brechbuhler Architects, Bozeman
Brotaje, Livingston
Business for Montana’s Outdoors, Big Sky
Cabin in Paradise, Pray
Cayuse Livestock Co, Melville
Chadz Coffee Shop, Livingston
Chico Hot Springs Resort, Pray
Chico Day Spa, Pray
Coffee Crossing, Livingston
Conley’s Books & Music, Livingston
Cool Works, Gardiner
Crevice Mountain Lodge, Jardine
Cutthroat Catering, Livingston
Electric Gecko Innovations, Livingston
Elk River Books, Livingston
Emigrant Creek Cabins, Emigrant
Eric Ian Photography, LLC, Livingston
Fayes Café, Livingston
Follow Yer Nose BBQ, Emigrant
Gil’s Goods, Livingston
Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Bozeman
Homefire Productions, Livingston
HeadRoom Corporation, Bozeman
Hell’s A Roarin Outfitters, Jardine
Jim Evanoff Consulting, Livingston
Johnstad’s B&B Log Cabin, LLC, Emigrant
Jonathan Foote Architect, Livingston
Joshua Mills, LLC, Livingston
Katabatic Brewing, Livingston
Landis Wildlife Films, Gardiner
Livingston Bodega & Bakery, Livingston
Livingston Center for Art and Culture, Livingston
Livingston Kite Company, Livingston
Lynn Donaldson Photography, Livingston
Markoutre, Livingston
Melanie Nasham Photography, Livingston
Michelle Uberuaga Z, PLLC, Livingston
Montana Fly Fishing Guides, LLC, Livingston
Mordem Art, Livingston
Mustang Fresh Food and Catering, Livingston
Newhall Studio, Livingston
Northfork Financial, Bozeman
Off the Beaten Path, Bozeman
Old Chico Enterprises Inc., Pray
OM Studio, Livingston
Osborn Gallery, Livingston
Out of the Blue, Livingston
Out of the Woods Fine Woodworking, Bozeman
Paradise Adventure Company, Gardiner
Paradise Gateway B&B, Livingston
Park County Chiropractic, Livingston
Park County Environmental Council, Livingston
Park Photography, Gardiner
Parks Reece Gallery, Livingston
Pinky’s Cafe, Livingston
PrintingForLess, Livingston
Pronto!, Livingston
Raich Montana Properties, Livingston
Rate Law Office, Livingston
Rich Lampluch author/publisher, Gardiner
Ridgeway Milling & Custom Wood, Livingston
Riversbend Lodge, Emigrant
Rock Dog Art, Gardiner
Rockin HK Hiking, Pray
Shifley Enterprises, Livingston
Site One Theraputics, Bozeman
Sweetwater Travel, Livingston
The Gourmet Cellar, Livingston
The Murray Bar, Livingston
The Wild Side Tours, Gardiner
The Old Saloon, Emigrant
Timber Trails Outdoor Store, Livingston
Three Peaks Ranch, Emigrant
Triple Peak Ranch, Pray
Uncorked Wine & Cheese Bar, Livingston
UZ Works, Livingston
Welch Enterprises, Gardiner
Western Sustainability Exchange, Livingston
Wheatgrass Saloon, Livingston
Wild Bear Adventures, Gardiner
Wild Poppy Beauty Bar, Livingston
Wild West Clothing, Livingston
Wildflour Bakery, Emigrant
Williams Therapeutic Massage, Livingston
Xanterra Parks and Resorts, Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone Association, Gardiner
Yellowstone Basin Inn, Gardiner
Yellowstone Bend Citizens Council, Livingston
Yellowstone Country B&B, Livingston
Yellowstone Raft Company, Gardiner
Yellowstone River Motel, Gardiner
Yellowstone Ski Tours, Cooke City
Yellowstone Valley Lodge, Livingston
Zondra Skertich Massage Therapist, Gardiner

River groups seek to dismiss Virginia uranium mining ban lawsuit

Mar 24, 2016

WISE, Va. (AP) -- Two river-protection groups are seeking the dismissal of a lawsuit aimed at ending Virginia's 1982 ban on the mining of the radioactive ore.

The Southern Environmental Law Center has filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Wise County Circuit Court on behalf of the Roanoke River Basin Association and the Dan River Basin Association.

Both groups have opposed uranium mining because they fear it will harm waterways in Southside Virginia and North Carolina.

Attorneys for Virginia Uranium Inc. have gone to state and federal courts in hopes of tapping a rich uranium deposit in Pittsylvania County.

In both legal challenges, the company contends Virginia's ban is unconstitutional. In the Circuit Court claim, the company is seeking compensation totaling nearly $500 million for what it argues is the taking of its property.

It is time for Virginia Uranium to end quest

Virginia Uranium is appealing its latest loss — this time in federal court.

17 January 2016

VUI is running out of options to get state permission to mine and mill a 119-million pound deposit of uranium ore about six miles outside of Chatham. This issue has been before the community since 2007, and over the years, the company has hired Richmond lobbyists and made campaign contributions to members of the General Assembly. It made claims about the benefits of having a local uranium mine, even boasting about how much tax revenue Pittsylvania County would get.

But none of that ever worked.

No uranium mining legislation — not a single bill — ever passed the General Assembly. Gov. Terry McAuliffe has promised to veto any uranium mining bill that did pass.

We wonder what would have happened if Virginia Uranium had asked the people of Pittsylvania County what they thought before opposition to uranium mining grew outside of the Dan River Region. In 2007 or 2008, a non-binding referendum could have given the company the kind of public debate that it wanted much earlier in the process.

That didn’t happen, of course. Instead, VUI tried to make its case in the General Assembly. But as time went on, more and more cities, counties and towns — along with environmental and agricultural groups — came to see that mining uranium in Virginia was a bad idea.

Virginia Uranium never convinced enough people — or their legislative leaders — that it could mine uranium safely without ruining the Dan River Region’s environment.

Accidents happen. Mistakes are made. People fall down on the job. When that happens at a uranium mine, it can cause problems that will outlive our children and grandchildren.

The Dan River Region still needs jobs, but we don’t need to worry that VUI will leave our environment sullied and our community’s reputation ruined.

While there was never a uranium mining referendum at the polls, Virginians have spoken out about this issue. Their legislators never passed a single bill to advance the cause of uranium mining. Their local leaders passed anti-mining resolutions. The people of Virginia have said with many voices that they don’t want VUI to mine uranium at Coles Hill.

Now it’s time for Virginia Uranium to listen to the people — and end its quest, once and for all.

Virginia Uranium eyes US appeal on state mining ban

14 January 2016

Attorneys for a Virginia company that wants to mine a rich deposit of uranium are trying anew to end the state's decades-long ban on the mining of the radioactive ore.

A federal judge in December rejected Virginia Uranium Co.'s bid to lift the 1980s vintage ban. The Pittsylvania County company had argued that the federal government should have the ultimate say on uranium mining, not the state.

This month, attorneys for Virginia Uranium filed a notice of appeal to the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond.

The object of the court fight is a 119-million-pound deposit of uranium beneath the rolling hills of Southside Virginia.

The company has also seeking relief in a state court, arguing the state ban violates the company's property rights.

Sen. Cantwell urges Forest Service to say no to Mount St. Helens drilling

Dameon Pesanti

21 March 2016

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., is opposed to exploratory drilling near Mount St. Helens and she’s urging the U.S. Forest Service to deny a request for such activity.

On Monday, Cantwell, the ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, sent a letter to Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell explaining her opposition to drilling and hardrock mining on lands purchased for conservation with cash from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. She argued that kind of development would likely interfere with the recreational and conservation purposes behind the purchase.

Ascot Resources wants to search for copper, silver, gold and other minerals by drilling 63 holes at 23 different sites at Goat Mountain, just north of the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument boundary near the headwaters of the Green River.

According to a news release from Cantwell’s office, the senator described hardrock mining and exploratory drilling, on lands purchased for conservation and recreation purposes, as “not sound public policy.”

“Given the incompatibility of this project with the primary purposes for which the lands were acquired and the broader negative (Land and Water Conservation Funds) implications, I respectfully request that you refrain from providing consent for prospecting permits for the Goat Mountain Project,” Cantwell wrote.

Earlier this month, Cantwell also questioned Tidwell in person during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing, saying she didn’t understand how exploratory drilling and conservation lands can coexist. He responded by saying acquired lands are managed by the rules of the forest the land becomes a part of, but added that he shared her concern.

“It’s one of the things I want to look at how we can avoid these problems from happening in the future,” Tidwell said.

“But once those lands are acquired, it’s part of the national forest, and if they’re open for mining and there’s a mining claim, then that proponent has an ability to propose an operation.”

The Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management released a modified environmental assessment for the Ascot Resources Goat Mountain exploratory drilling permit application in January and once again in February. Two 30-day public comment periods were opened, the latest of which closed on March 19.

On Thursday, BLM spokesman Michael Campbell said the agencies received about 2,800 comments on the project during the combined comment periods.

The original assessment was approved by both the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management in 2012, but it was declared inadequate in 2012 by U.S. District Court in Oregon. Drilling never took place.

Number of factors

Campbell said several factors play into why the project is being considered on lands purchased with conservation fund dollars.

He said Congress knew there were mineral claims and mineral interests near the mountain when they passed the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument Act in 1982. So the Congress intentionally created the monument boundary to exclude those areas.

“(It) didn’t create buffer zones or restrictions on adjacent uses — other than uses that are specifically spelled out in the surface management uses, which doesn’t prohibit mineral exploration,” he said. “Because Congress specifically drew this area out, it was always understood that this had the potential for mineral development.”

The mineral rights in the 217 acres of land at Goat Mountain were originally patented at the time of the monument’s creation by the Duval Corporation. The rights traded hands a few times before Ascot purchased them.

As it currently stands, half of the minerals underground belong to Ascot; the other half belongs to the U.S. government.

“Imagine every other grain of sand is what we’re having to discuss,” Campbell said. “Part of what we’re looking at is whether or not it’s in the public’s interests to get at that 50 percent of the public’s piece and allow the applicant to get at the other 50 percent to determine if there’s a viable state below.”

Ascot purchased the mineral rights before the Forest Service acquired 167 acres of the surface lands with Conservation Fund dollars. According to Campbell, even after the purchase was made with the Conservation Fund, there were no restrictions placed on the mineral rights.

Also, the lands in question are managed as part of the Gifford Pinchot Land and Resource Management Plan, which doesn’t prohibit mineral exploration, Campbell said.

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