Murray, Cantwell offer bill to derail Mazama copper mine

By:  K.C. Mehaffey
Source: Wenatchee World

U.S. Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell introduced a bill Wednesday to protect 340,000 acres of national forest in the Methow Valley from large mining developments.

The legislation would prevent industrial-scale mining on federal lands surrounding Mazama, where a Canadian mining company is awaiting approval from the U.S. Forest Service to begin drilling test holes for copper on Flagg Mountain.

The bill — the Methow Headwaters Protection Act of 2016 — parallels an effort by local citizens and businesses to get an administrative withdrawal of the lands from industrial mining from theU.S. Secretary of the Interior. An administrative mineral withdrawal would prevent new mining claims for up to 20 years.

We’re thrilled,” Maggie Coon, spokeswoman for the Methow Headwaters Campaign, said of the federal legislation.

Methow Headwaters is a coalition of residents, civic leaders and 135 local businesses who launched an effort in February to prevent Blue River Resources, Ltd. from pursuing copper claims near Mazama. The group fears that the test drilling could lead to future large-scale mining, posing a risk to the area’s economy, water and rural character.

In a news release, Murray said that the legislation would help protect an environmentally sensitive area along with federal investments in salmon recovery, and support the Methow Valley’s thriving recreation economy.

Water issues in the Methow Valley are paramount. That is why copper mining that could impact rivers and salmon runs is something we can’t risk,” Cantwell said in the news release. Cantwell is ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Their news release touts the area’s nearly 1 million visitors, who contribute more than $150 million to the county’s economy annually.

Coon said introducing the legislation sends a really strong message about the importance of this issue to the region.

The first order of business is to thank our senators for this action, which is a huge boost to the campaign,” she said, adding, “We’ve come a long way, and this is the next milestone.”

Next, the group may seek support in the U.S. House of Representatives, but will work with Murray and Cantwell before determining how to proceed with regard to any federal legislation.

From its beginning, Methow Headwaters has been clear that the group does not oppose mining, but believes that mining in this area would be detrimental to an economy built on outdoor recreation and farming.

I think we have demonstrated a very diverse and very overwhelming support,” Coon said. “We’ll be continuing to invite people to join the campaign, and reaching out to more businesses and organizations.”

In the group’s news release, Brian Charlton, general manager of Sun Mountain Lodge, said the legislation is in direct response to the broad community opposition to the proposition of a large copper mine in the Methow Valley.

It’s gratifying to see the senators’ support for the decades of work by civic and business leaders, farmers and ranchers, and Methow residents who have shaped a thoughtful vision that nurtures our lands and waters, sustains our economy and welcomes visitors from far and wide to enjoy the beauty of this special place,” he said in the release.

Sam Lucy, co-owner of Bluebird Grain Farms, added that the quality of food he grows depends on the region’s lands, clean air and clean water. “Maintaining the quality of this place is important to my business, the products we grow and the local economy, which is why a successful mineral withdrawal is so important,” his statement said.