Wednesday, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) called on the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to reconsider its plans for a mine on environmentally sensitive land on the edge of Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.
"BLM is moving ahead with this plan over the loud objections of local citizens and without completing an adequate review of the severe environmental degradation this mine would bring," said Cantwell, a member of the Senate Natural Resources Committee. "The proposed mine area includes land purchased by the government for recreation and preservation, not for exploitation by a private mining company. We need to keep mining out of roadless areas and other sensitive land, and the BLM needs to rethink this plan and pay more attention to local residents when making these decisions. Mt. St. Helens and the lands nearby are a key piece of our state's natural heritage. We have a responsibility to keep out reckless development."
In a letter sent Wednesday to BLM Acting Director Jim Hughes, Cantwell highlighted local opposition to the mine as well as the environmental sensitivity of the proposed mine area, and asked for answers on the BLM's decision to move forward with the plan.
"...land within this 217 acre parcel...was purchased by the U.S. Forest Service with the express intent of aiding the preservation and integrity of the Green River...," Cantwell wrote. "In fact, the Forest Service purchased this land using Land and Water Conservation Funds, which are appropriated by Congress for conservation and recreation purposes. ...Moreover, lands in multiple mineral surveys included in this lease are part of the Tumwater Inventoried Roadless Area."
On March 14, 2007, BLM issued a preliminary hardrock mineral lease to Idaho General Mines for land on the northeastern edge of Mt. St Helens National Volcanic Monument. The lease, which cannot be finalized until May 14 when a two-month public comment period ends, would give Idaho General the right to apply for permits to begin mining. A mine on this land could harm water quality in the nearby Green and Cowlitz riversused by Southwest Washington residents and by endangered salmon and steelheadreduce recreation opportunities in the area, and cause erosion and other environmental degradation in and around the proposed mine.
[The text of Cantwell's letter follows below]
April 18, 2007
Jim Hughes Acting Director Bureau of Land Management 1849 C Street NW Washington, DC 20240
Dear Acting Director Hughes,
I am writing regarding the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) recent announcement of a hardrock minerals lease in the "Margaret Deposit" area near Mount St. Helens.
I am very concerned about the BLM's decision to issue a 20-year renewable, non-competitive fractional interest hardrock mineral lease to Idaho General Mines, Inc. As you know, land within this 217 acre parcel known as the Margaret Deposit was purchased by the U.S. Forest Service with the express intent of aiding the preservation and integrity of the Green River, noted in a 1986 letter from the Forest Service to the Washington state congressional delegation. In fact, the Forest Service purchased this land using Land and Water Conservation Funds, which are appropriated by Congress for conservation and recreation purposes.
Moreover, lands in multiple mineral surveys included in this lease are part of the Tumwater Inventoried Roadless Area. The Roadless Area Conservation Rule, adopted by the Forest Service in 2001, protects our national forests by prohibiting road-building and logging in designated areas. The 2001 Roadless Rule provides balance between conserving our forests, fish and wildlife habitat while allowing for resource use in other National Forest areas. I have long supported consistent implementation of the 2001 Roadless Rule and look forward to reintroducing legislation that would protect the nation's 58.5 million acres of inventoried roadless areas, including Tumwater.
Additionally, I am concerned that the BLM's Environmental Assessment did not adequately address potential environmental impacts. Although the Environmental Assessment identifies unstable soils in the potential lease area and notes concerns about sediments washing into the streams that feed into Green River, the BLM nonetheless issued a finding of no significant impact. As you are no doubt aware, the Green River is home to listed species of salmon and steelhead, and mine development activity could significantly harm and potentially eliminate these fish populations.
As you may know, there is widespread opposition to this proposed mine in the area. I am hearing from constituents who are concerned, and the city councils of Castle Rock and Kelso have passed resolutions opposing the mine. The Vancouver Columbian has editorialized against this proposal as well.
Given the BLM's obligation to consider the public interest when deciding on the issuance of lease applications, I respectfully request a response to the following questions:
- BLM officials have stated publicly that the BLM has not analyzed whether or not a mine should be located in the Margaret Deposit. If that is the case, why is the BLM moving forward in the process of allowing mining to occur? - The Environmental Assessment did not address potential environment impacts from the proposed mine, or the developmental steps to get there. Why is that, and when can we expect the BLM to undertake a thorough assessment of environmental impacts? - Please explain how the BLM determined that this lease is in the public interest when so many in the area oppose this proposal?
Thank you for your consideration of our concerns and questions.
United States Senator Maria Cantwell cc: Fred O'Ferrall, BLM Oregon State Office, Claire Lavendal, Gifford Pinchot National Forest