No go for a gold mine

  Despite its reputation, the 1872 Mining Law may no longer be a friend of the mining industry. On March 26, the Department of Interior and the Department of Agriculture denied the plan of operations for a proposed open-pit gold mine in north-central Washington (HCN, 8/31/98), saying it failed to meet the requirements of the century-old mining law.


"This is the opening salvo of something that will have repercussions around the West," says Roger Flynn, an attorney with the Western Mining Action Project in Boulder, Colo. The law was designed for the small-scale mines of the late 1800s, and Flynn argued that it does not allow for the huge waste sites required by modern mining techniques. The agencies agreed.


"This definitely pulled out the kingpin that's holding up their whole castle," says David Kleigman of the Okanogan Highlands Alliance, a local group opposing the mine. "But I know the power of this industry, and I know they're going to try something."


Company representatives say they'll persevere. "We're going to use every recourse available to try and get this back on track," says Battle Mountain Gold spokesman Les Van Dyke. "After eight years of permitting, this came as quite a surprise."


Meanwhile, Flynn is planning to apply his argument to other open-pit mine proposals around the West, and he says he is looking forward to the fight. "Now they're saying that the law is old and archaic," he says of the mining industry. "They're singing a different tune now that it's being used against them. This is going to be fun."


* Michelle Nijhuis