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News / Clark County News

Group sues to prohibit Mount St. Helens’ drilling

Two agencies OK’d mining company permit

By Andy Matarrese, Columbian environment and transportation reporter
Published: April 9, 2019, 6:01am

A conservation group has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management over the agencies’ decision to allow exploratory drilling in the upper Green River Valley at Goat Mountain, near the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.

The BLM in December found mining company Ascot Resources Ltd.’s proposal to do exploratory drilling ahead of mining would present no significant environmental impact. The decision granted the Canadian mining company two hard rock prospecting permits within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

The company’s plans call for drilling up to 63 roadside exploration holes, measuring 2 to 3 inches in diameter, to look for copper, silver, gold and molybdenum on a mining claim in the upper Green River Valley at Goat Mountain. The drilling area is about 12 miles northeast of Mount St. Helens and adjacent to, and extending northeast from, the boundary of the volcanic monument.

In February 2018, the U.S. Forest Service gave its consent to the exploratory mining.

The Cascade Forest Conservancy filed its lawsuit late last week, challenging both permitting decisions.

Both agencies “failed to recognize that mining cannot interfere with the outdoor recreational purposes for which the land was acquired,” the conservancy said in a news release Monday announcing the lawsuit.

The organization says some pieces of the land involved were acquired to promote recreation and conservation under the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act.

“This project would severely impact recreation opportunities due to noise, dust, exhaust fumes, lights, vehicle traffic, the presence of drill equipment and project area closures,” said Tom Buchele, managing attorney of the Earthrise Law Center. The Earthrise Law Center is representing the conservancy.

In a 2014 lawsuit filed by the conservancy, then called the Gifford Pinchot Task Force, a judge invalidated prior drilling permits and held the permitting agencies violated the conservation act.

Michael Campbell, a spokesman for the BLM, said the agency would not comment on pending litigation, but said the earlier lawsuit gave Ascot the option to address the problems presented in the suit.

A U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman said the agency also would not comment on pending litigation.

Nicole Budine, policy and campaign manager for the conservancy, said the project still fails to pass legal muster, as mining would still interfere with the recreational uses for which the land was acquired.

“Although they tried to do so, I don’t see how the (U.S.) Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management could legally and rationally conclude that the approved drilling would not interfere with recreation in violation of the (Land and Water Conservation Fund Act),” Buchele said.

The conservation group also filed a related lawsuit against the two agencies for failure to produce public records under the Freedom of Information Act, saying the U.S. Forest Service hasn’t produced a single responsive document, and the BLM has failed to provide records on time or complete records.

Columbian environment and transportation reporter