As Ascot Resources announced they have begun exploration drilling on the Mt. Margaret property , a former Duval Corp. property located in the St. Helens Mining District of Skamania County in Washington State, Oregon-based environmentalists say even Ascot’s small drilling program has no business disturbing the Mount St. Helens National Monument.
Mount St. Helens is best known to U.S. audiences for its violent eruption in May 1980 which killed 57 local residents with 21 bodies never recovered, and spewed a cloud of ash that covered hundreds of square miles.
The explosion and debris destroyed 250 homes, 47 bridges, 15 miles of railways, and 185 miles of highway. It destroyed 7,000 big game animals, 12 million salmon, and millions of birds and small mammals. The last rumblings of volcanic activity were detected in 2008.
The Gifford Pinchot Task Force, which opposed a 2005 General Moly land lease application to explore the porphyry copper-moly-gold-silver resources of the Margaret deposit, is gearing up for yet another fight against Ascot.
The Vancouver-based Ascot (TSX-V: AOT) signed an option agreement earlier this year to purchase interests in Mt. Margaret from General Moly for $2 million. Since discovery in 1969 Duval Corporation conducted numerous exploration programs and mine/metallurgical studies on the Mt. Margaret deposit until the eruption of Mount St. Helens halted all fieldwork in 1980.
In 1982 the U.S. Government created the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, a protected zone encompassing 445 sq. miles around the crater that was created when the mountain blew its top off in 1980.
By that time, however, Duval had drilled 105 holes totaling 20,729 meters. That work defined a geological resource of 4.1 billion pounds of copper, 4.04 million ounces of gold, 46 million pounds of moly and 15 million ounces of silver.
General Moly applied to the U.S. Forest Service for a fractional interest lease and a fringe acreage lease for 682.2 acres within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The Forest Service denied the request in 2008.
This time around, Ascot has obtained the Forest Service’s consent to drill the first of an initial 14-hole program aimed at confirming the historic grades and to start filling what the junior explorer called “large internal gaps in the system.”
The Gifford Pinchot Task Force fears the exploratory drilling phase is “the first step in a process that could result in a 3,000-acre copper mine adjacent to Mount St. Helens.” They claim that developing a copper mine in “a seismically active region poses a serious risk of releasing toxins that could devastate threatened fish runs and contaminate drinking water supplies downstream.”
“The Green River Valley and Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument is a unique and special place and it is not an appropriate location for 3,000 acre copper mine,” the task force observed on its website.
However, Ascot CFO Robert Evans has told the news media “there is no problem that we are aware of.”
“Mining is way too premature a word,” Evans told a newspaper. ‘Exploring is what we’re doing.
Ron Freeman, public services staff office for the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, told a local publication that Ascot can perform exploratory drilling with just Forest Service Permission. The company would still need to get BLM approval before any mining took place. Drilling access is utilizing existing roads used in the 1970s, but since abandoned.
“We’re years and a lot more exploratory work from any kind of mine development,” Freeman said. “It would be 10 years before a mine is even proposed.”
However, the GP Task Force argues, “The exploratory drilling…will open the door to mine development and the Forest Service should consider the likely impacts even at this early stage.”