3,000 Acre Copper Mine Proposed Near Mount St. Helens

By Ryan Hunter of Portland, Oregon. Ryan is the Program Director for the Gifford Pinchot Task Force, a conservation non-profit dedicated to the protection and restoration of forest ecosystems in Southwest Washington.

The Mount St. Helens area is nationally recognized for its unique and significant recreational, scientific, and ecological features. A mining company out of Spokane, Washington, however, is proposing a 3,000 acre mine in the area that would harm this unique treasure in our own backyard.

Idaho General Mines, Inc. is seeking a lease from the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service to land in the Green River valley below Goat Mountain, which lies just north and east of the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. IGMI's President has stated that they hope to mine the site to extract copper, gold, molybdenum, and silver.

Much of the land the company wants to lease was purchased in 1986 by the Forest Service from the Trust for Public Lands using Land and Water Conservation Funds. These funds were intended by Congress to be used to purchase lands for recreation and conservation, not for mining.

The area under consideration for a lease also enters the Tumwater Inventoried Roadless Area, which would have been protected from this mining proposal by President Clinton's 2001 Roadless Rule had President Bush not backtracked on the popular policy.

Mine development at Goat Mountain could have enormous impacts on the threatened salmon and steelhead runs in the Green River, the drinking water supplies of Kelso, Longview, and Castle Rock, old growth forest habitat, and numerous recreation destinations.

Fish runs of the Green River could be devastated by a chemical process resulting from mining activity, known as acid mine drainage, that would leach sulfuric acid and other toxic substances into surrounding water bodies. Once this chemical process begins, it is nearly impossible to manage and it could persist for thousands of years.

At the Summitville gold mine in southern Colorado, for example, a bankrupt Canadian company has left the nation's most costly mine cleanup. It will take 100 years and cost $235 million to clean up the release of cyanide and acid mine drainage that has left 17 miles of the Alamosa River devoid of fish and other aquatic life. The Alamosa is also a water source for irrigated crops downstream. The abandoned mine is now a Superfund site. The company mined a total of $130 million worth of metals at Summitville and the mine was permitted as a 'zero discharge' mine.

Moreover, a dam that would need to be constructed to hold back stored waste material could fail in the seismically active region, releasing in a flash tons of toxic substances into the Green River. At least 20 miles of new road construction could also add smothering sediment to streams and rivers.

Any toxic substances released into the Green River would eventually flow down stream to the Cowlitz River where it could have serious implications for the drinking water supplies of communities such as Kelso, Longview, and Castle Rock. Agricultural water users would have to cope with contaminated water supplies as well.

Developing a mine in the Green River valley would also impact recreation destinations such as hiking trails, popular lakes, and the Green River Horse Camp, a popular destination for backcountry horse enthusiasts.

Mine development could in fact penetrate so deep underground that it impacts the ground water, altering the hydrology of the area in such a way so as to potentially dewater streams and popular lakes in the area.

If Idaho General Mines is successful in obtaining a lease from federal agencies, it could be the crucial first step they need to develop the mine at Goat Mountain. Fortunately, we've learned about their proposal early in the process and have a real opportunity to stop it. But we can't do it without your help.

Please take a moment and write a letter to these decision makers at the BLM and Forest Service asking them not to grant Idaho General Mines a lease. Mine development would be too costly to vulnerable fish runs, drinking water supplies, popular recreation areas, and wildlife.

Claire Lavendel
Forest Supervisor
Gifford Pinchot National Forest
10600 NE 51st Circle
Vancouver, WA 98682
[email protected]

Robert DeViney
Chief of Lands & Mineral Resources
BLM Oregon State Office
333 SW 1st Avenue
Portland, OR 97204
[email protected]

Comments

  • pdxdem (unverified)
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    why dose it not surprise me that a corporation wants to rape our national park.

  • JB (unverified)
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    This is great, I have no way to express my joy at the fact that we have a Republican President and Congress right now with so much to lose on the line I have heard them say over and over again that they are supporters of the environemnt and so i have total faith that they will stand up for this pristine and sacrfed treasure of Oregon. More importanatly I am thrilled that Alito just got apointed to the Supreme court so that when this case goes before the supreme court he can uphold the constitutional foundation for the environmental portection agency. I amsure that he wont find that congress had no authority under the interstate commerce clause to create the EPA. Anyone who disagrees with me and sees this as a major disaster heading towards oregon, and the genreal environemental laws of this country is simply an american hating, hippie reactionary, liberal who hates anything the president does just because. I wonder how many of them even know that he passed the healthy skies inative, or is upporting clean coal technology and nuclear energy which is great for both the economy and the enviroment i mean look at what coal minning has done for west virginia and pennsylvania. and you don't hear about any environmental problems in those states do you. So i wouldn't worry our pretty little heads over anything George Bush is a good chrisitian and will do the right thing even if that is DESTROYING EVERY SACRED THING WE HOLD DEAR AND CLOSE TO OUR HEARTS, LIVES, AND COMMUNITTEES. But i am sure god wouldn't have made him president if he wasn't a good man. PS WE ARE SCREWED.

  • dmrusso (unverified)
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    I am not too suprised to hear about this.

    Mt. St. Helens is in WA, not OR... but a minor faux pas. ;) Nevertheless, it and all of our national parks are treasures that should be preserved.

    The only thing that will stop this effort is local grassroots efforts.

    Considering how selfish humans, and especially Americans are, I would propose altering the environmental arguement. Rather than talk about "Saving the Earth", we should be talking about "Saving the Human Race." The Earth can survive and recover from most things given a million years or more... a wink of the eye on the nature clock.

    What we do to our environment, however, directly effects the endurability and survivability of the human race. Change the way that we argue to appeal to the most selfish amoung us and we might stand a chance.

  • Charlie in Gresham (unverified)
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    Worry not! I'm sure Gov Chris will pull her azz out of King County long enough to effectively deal with this issue using her vast intellect and expansive leadership qualities.

    Hmmmmmm....we better worry.

  • Karen (unverified)
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    <which lies="" just="" north="" and="" east="" of="" the="" mount="" st.="" helens="">

    If it's not at the mountain how will the moutain be harmed? I would think it wouldn't be harmed at all.

    Aren't there mining regulations to prohibit mining activity from causing "acid mine drainage, that would leach sulfuric acid and other toxic substances into surrounding water bodies"?

    The scenario you have laid out appears to be one which could only occur without any regulations at all.

  • (Show?)

    Karen,

    Where to start? If you've been reading any of my comments here, you'll know that I'm a huge skeptic when it comes to assertions made by enviro-activists, but I'm also a guy that has dealt with refurbishing equipment used in just these kinds of mines, so-o-o-o-o-o:

    Let's look at repairing dump truck used in the copper mines in Utah. The inside of the box is visbly eroded from mined and ore processing chemicals.

    Breathing inside the bed of the truck is physically painful and is similar to having your head wrapped in a plastic bag with a lead/acid battery.

    Even after sandblasting, when you put a cutting torch to the "clean" metal, a black tarry substance comes smoking and bubbling out of the cut and keeps the ensuing weld from sticking properly.

    These mine sites expose workers to mercury, lead, and other toxic chemicals, either from the extracted ore or from the processing.

    <hr/>

    This administration has resisted charging mining companies any more than they had to pay under laws passed back in the 19th century. They have repealed or refused to enforce clean up and safety laws that were on the books when they came into office.

    <hr/>

    We can't take the risk that soemthing like this could be done responsibly (if that is even possible) because we've seen the standard of "good stewardship" that our current leadership subscribes to.......Floods of coal slurry and cave ins and death in West Virginia coal country.......Identifying 21" diameter live trees as appropriate for "salvage cutting" after a fire in southern Oregon.....Ignoring the fact that New Orleans dikes......would break.......had broken......people were stranded.......and dying...

    <hr/>

    Even the evangelical Christians are getting fed up with these punks about the whole denial thing around global warming.

  • Andy (unverified)
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    I think its fine to mine for copper in Oregon/Washington so all you so called "environmentalists" up there can continue to use your cars (copper allows them to move, you do want to go to all the "green" meetings, don't you? Why walk when you can ride!), computers (gee, they have copper in them to allow the greens to communicate and to post this dribble), live in that nice house you have (many pounds of copper are in your home, or didn't you know that?), etc., etc. Do any of you people get the point?????? At least a little bit? Everything comes from the earth. If it isn't grown, it is mined. Get real up there. There are significant regs that cover mining from top to bottom. And yes, even plastic has roots in the earth - ever hear of oil and mineral fillers?????? You don't seem to have a clue on how much you, yes you Mr/Ms Green, rely on responsible mining.

  • dmrusso (unverified)
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    Hmmm, "responsible mining"... Is that equivilant to "military intelligence"?

    If there were significant regs on mining then why did we lose so many miners this past month in WV? Ironically, Canada (Alberta) was able to save all of their 70+ miners. It might be interesting to compare regs in both countries along with actual case loads/ fines/ etc.

    Andy, while it is true that we rely on the Earth for all of our resources, that does not mean that we need use or mine them irresponsibily, nor for that matter not question those that claim that they are doing what is best for their workers or the environment. This isn't black and white. Republicans fall for that crap. We can do better.

  • Wes Wagner (unverified)
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    Does anyone realize that if the park service did not own this land it would be economically unviable for the mining company to buy it for the purpose of mining it? It would be far too expensive - think of the real estate value. If americans hadn't signed away the mineral rights of the land underneath their own feet then you would be able to stop people from mining your property.

    So long as you let government practice "conservation" rather than buying the land and conserving it yourself - you will be continually disappointed with the results.

    Wes Wagner NW Meridian

  • Karen (unverified)
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    Pat, That wasn't a very good answer.

    You began with "where to start?" then didn't.

    Instead you talked about a dump truck, then proceeded to run through a list of supposed Bush Adm. offenses while never making any cogent point at all.

    You declared that "we can't take the risk" because the Bush administration was responsible for the New Orleans dikes failing.

    Did you personally research all of that wonderful evidence?

    Perhaps all mining should be banned. Including iron mining & gravel mining. And all drilling, logging and excessive tilling too.

  • Justin (unverified)
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    Perhaps we should start recycling the metals that we throw away first. Each piece of electronics that you throw away contains valuable metals that could be salvaged and used in new devices... unfortunately, Americans are expected to throw millions of computers away each year, in addition to roughly 100 million cell phones per year. And this is just the United States.

    Please, we need to recycle this stuff.. if done correctly, we wouldn't need to mine nearly as much raw materials from the earth as we do. In fact, if the raw metals were more expensive - stop giving mining rights away to companies for free - there would be intense economic pressure to recycle even more!

    People, use your head. Where there's a market, there's a way.

    PS - as a side note, the building industry has already started to do this, with architects and developers aggressively pursuing LEED standards, which include - in many cases - recycling 100% of the material on a site where they tore down an existing structure. Case in point: the rebuilding center on N Mississippi. Oregon is also the leader in recycling in the US - and we can do much better.

  • JoanneR (unverified)
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    Justin - You're right about recylcling building materials, that's become very popular in some venues, especially for people restoring older buildings. I've seen stuff at Rejuvenation that hasn't been made for perhaps 50 years, and I worked on a house that a fellow built out of recycled materials - maybe 80%. He had the most beautiful straight grain clear maple I've ever seen for window casings. He remilled the stuff out of old picnic tables he got from the forest service, they were just going to the dump and he offered to save them the tipping fee. One of the problems with recycling - which used to be called salvage - is that it's extremely labor intensive, especially when you start working with materials like copper wire, etc., but you are right, that if there is a sufficient market, someone will eventually step in to fill it. The reason people are still mining is that it's more cost effective to do so than to salvage and resmelt existing scrap. A case in point - I have a farm in Mulino, just a bit outside Oregon City. When we first moved out here, we had a lot of old fencing that had to be removed. Wire that had been abused so much that the field fencing was all but falling appart, we also had a lot of old barbed wire laying around as well as corrugated roofing, old appliences, etc. We originally planned to rent a dumpster, but soon found out that there were salvagers who would come and haul off all that old steel for free, all you had to do was put it in a pile for them to pull a trailer up to. Around 5-6 years ago we were redoing some fencing, etc. around the farm and inquired about the salvagers. I'm much rather give the metal to the salvager than to have to drive it to a transfer station which costs me gas and time even if I don't have to pay a tipping fee. We were informed that the old salvager had retired and no one was taking his place because scrap metal prices were so low that he couldn't even make his gas money - one of the reasons he had retired. Now skip foreward a few years - I think there are 3 salvagers who work my part of Oregon today. Why? Steel prices have skyrocketed, and the salvage price is up high enough that someone can make enough money off of collecting scrap and selling it that it's worth their while to go around a pick it up. A market and someone to fill it. They won't get rich picking up scrap metal, but they are their own boss, etc. I currently have perhaps 1/2 ton of old scrap that I've been saving for when the prices go up, and when the ground dries up enough for them to get their trailer back there this spring, it's all going to the first salvager who can get to it.

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