Ascot Resources to apply for new permits to explore for copper, gold near Mount St. Helens

IndustriesAssociated Press

A Canadian company plans to submit a new application for exploratory drilling northeast of Mount St. Helens after a federal judge invalidated its prospecting permits last year.

Ascot Resources plans to address deficiencies outlined in the judge's decision and resubmit its application for hard rock prospecting permits, company spokesman Robert Evans said in an email Tuesday.

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The company's plan is still to drill 63 holes to explore for minerals within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, but there may be some changes to drill sites, Evans said.

Last July, a federal court judge in Portland, Oregon, ruled in a favor of the nonprofit Gifford Pinchot Task Force, based in Vancouver, Washington.

The group sued in 2013 after the Bureau of Land Management approved permits allowing Ascot to drill holes to look for copper, gold, silver and other minerals. The Forest Service also approved conditions of those permits in 2012.

U.S. District Judge Marco Hernandez found that the federal agencies violated environmental laws in approving the permits.

The drilling would have occurred near Goat Mountain within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in southwest Washington.

"Ascot is planning to resubmit its application after addressing the concerns raised" by the judgment, Evans said.

The environmental group vowed to continue its fight against the project after learning about the plans on Tuesday.

"Time and time again, we've shown that the Green River Valley is too special a place for a major mining operation," said Matt Little, executive director of the Gifford Pinchot Task Force. "We will continue to fight for fish and wildlife in the valley as well as the communities downstream."

The group has said the project would have included extensive industrial mineral operations that could harm threatened salmon and steelhead, as well as impact recreational opportunities in the area and the drinking water for nearby communities.

According to BLM, the project would involve mineral exploration only, and the holes drilled were about 2 to 3 inches in diameter to recover rock core samples.

BLM spokesman Michael Campbell said Tuesday that the agency is working with Ascot to re-evaluate the project's environmental assessment and address the problems that the federal judge noted, such as groundwater issues.

Campbell said the agency hoped to have a revised environmental assessment out next spring or summer, with the goal of issuing new prospecting permits by September.