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Copper Causes Clash in Methow Valley

A new round in an old fight may be opening in Washington's scenic Methow Valley - a clash between economics and the environment. A Canadian mining company plans to test drill for copper on national forest service land near Mazama in the Methow Valley.

The site's in the middle of one of Washington's most scenic and recreationally popular areas. But underneath the eastern slopes of the north Cascades lies the southern end of a huge copper belt that extends into Washington from British Columbia.

And the Vancouver BC copper mining company Blue River Resources thinks that about a billion pounds of copper is there, near the surface, which would be worth more than 3-billion dollars at today's prices.

Under the 1872 mining law, the US Forest Service is unable to veto mining. It would have the power only to require claim holders to avoid or clean up environmental damage.

The issue has already drawn lively debate. The Forest Service has gotten about 750 comments on the initial exploratory plan, most of them negative. Mining foes fear pollution of the Methow River and its Goat Creek tributary which is a spawning stream for steelhead and bull trout. But there are many who see a new mine as an economic booster shot to offset slumping employment at gold mines in the area.

Blue River Resources plans to drill up to 15 sampling holes about a thousand feet deep. The drilling may begin later this summer.

Even if the drilling confirms the presence of viable copper deposits, it would be several years before a mine could be operating, given local opposition and required environmental reviews.