A Spokane company’s hopes to mine copper near Mount St. Helens moved forward this week after a federal agency issued a lease and a positive environmental report for a portion of the property.
The hard-rock minerals lease and environmental assessment issued Wednesday give Idaho General Mines Inc. the right to apply to explore the property near 5,400-foot Goat Mountain, north and east of the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.
But the request faces years of additional environmental reviews and public comment before any exploration or mining would be allowed, U.S. Bureau of Land Management spokesman Michael Campbell said Thursday from Portland.
The property is owned by the U.S. Forest Service, but the BLM oversees mining on federal lands. The lease site involves 217 acres in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, but another 700 acres are pending, the BLM said.
IGMI Chairman Robert Russell has said the company wants to mine copper and related molybdenum, gold and silver on about 3,000 acres. His son, Andy Russell, the company’s director of development, said Thursday the company needed the lease before it could begin considering whether the site can be developed.
“It opens the door for further investigation,” he said. “We have old data that says there may be minerals of interest there.”
The environmental assessment looks at whether mining is consistent with BLM policies, as well as the national forest’s management plan and the Northwest Forest Plan, which designates the land as timber land, Campbell said. Mining is “not inconsistent” with the highest and best use for the land, he said.
The company in 2005 applied for a lease to conduct exploratory drilling on the northern edge of the blast zone of the volcano’s 1980 eruption. Because the area was historically mined, it was not included in legislation creating the national monument.
The land proposed for leasing was obtained by the Forest Service in 1986 from the Trust for Public Lands, a conservation nonprofit that purchases land to protect it from development.
Mine opponents immediately pounced on the latest BLM action.
“This is a betrayal of the public trust to consider mining in such a special place that, ironically, was given to the Forest Service for the purpose of protecting it from mining,” said Ryan Hunter, of the Gifford Pinchot Task Force.
Campbell said the company would have to submit a plan of operations and go through a full-scale environmental impact study before any ground could be disturbed, a process that would take years.
Russell said exploratory drilling would take as long as five years before the company could determine whether the site is feasible to mine.
The communities of Kelso and Castle Rock have passed resolutions opposing the lease because of potential harmful effects on Green River water quality, fisheries, recreation and tourism. Goat Mountain is the headwaters of the Green River, which flows into the Cowlitz River.
Comments on the proposal will be accepted for 30 days at the U.S. Department of Interior’s BLM Oregon State Office in Portland.