A conservation group has sued two federal agencies in an attempt to block exploratory drilling for minerals north of Mount St. Helens, saying the activity could damage recreation in the Green River Valley, the Green River itself, wild steelhead populations and the water supply of downstream communities.
Monday’s action is the second time the Cascade Forest Conservancy has sued to block exploratory drilling by a Canadian Company, Ascot Resources Ltd. The suit challenges U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service decisions to permit Ascot to drill up to 63 drill holes from 23 drill sites to locate deposits of copper, gold, and molybdenum.
The group successfully sued to block the drilling in 2014.
Forest Service spokeswoman Sue Ripp said it was not their policy to comment on lawsuits. The BLM had found that the proposed exploratory drilling would present no significant environmental impact within a 900-acre area it would occur.
The area is popular for horseback riding, camping and hunting, and, historically, was heavily used for logging and some mining.
The federal prospecting permits allow for constant drilling operations, the installation of drilling-related structures and facilities, the reconstruction of 1.69 miles of decommissioned roads, and pumping up to 5,000 gallons of groundwater per day.
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The permits are for drilling only. Establishing a full-blown mine would need to go through a separate review and permitting process, but conservationists are leery of any action that is a step toward creating a mine.
“Mining activities would greatly impact the fantastic backcountry recreation opportunities within the Green River valley,” Nicole Budine, Policy and Campaign Manager for Cascade Forest Conservancy, said in a prepared statement. “Recreationists come here to experience solitude, not the constant noise, dust, and lights associated with drilling. This incredible area should be protected from mining so future generations can enjoy this unique landscape.”
The exploratory drilling would take place in the area near Goat Mountain, which is at the very northern edge of the 110,000-acre preserve known as the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.
Ascot has not announced what type of mine it would develop, though opponents widely believe it would be an open pit mine. The company generally does not discuss the project with the media.
To obtain permission to mine, Ascot would have to prove that the mineral deposits are available in commercially-viable amounts. That could be problematic. Small-scale mining has taken place in the area periodically for more than a century, and during the last 30 years, mining interests have tried and failed to kick-start mining efforts on the 900 acres. They all ran into the same problem: It just didn’t pay to mine on Goat Mountain.
Environmentalists have opposed the exploration plan for years, saying the area in question was purchased with funds specifically meant to conserve lands and that mining could pollute the Green River and compromise the volcanic monument, which was set up for scientific research and to preserve natural processes without human interference.