By Ann McCreary

The Okanogan County Farm Bureau has expressed concern about proposed exploration for copper by Blue River Resources Ltd. on U.S. Forest Service land in Mazama.

In a letter sent recently to Okanogan County Commissioners and the Forest Service, Farm Bureau president Jon Wyss said the board of the 850-member organization “is growing concerned about further exploration on the part of Blue River Resources” and particularly the impacts on water quality from exploration and potential mining.

The Forest Service is currently completing an environmental analysis for the proposed copper exploration. A decision on whether to permit the exploratory drilling is expected to be issued by Methow District Ranger Mike Liu in early August, said Laurie Dowie, special uses and mineral coordinator for the ranger district.

The project would involve drilling up to 15 exploratory holes, up to 980 feet deep, to assess the potential to mine copper on Forest Service land near Flagg Mountain in Mazama.

The “Mazama Copper Project” was first proposed in 2013 by Blue River Resources, which describes itself as a “mineral exploration and development company” with offices in Vancouver, B.C. The proposal generated more than 700 comments during a public comment period last year.

The Farm Bureau wants to be sure that the Forest Service and Blue River Resources coordinate with Okanogan County on the proposed project and assess effects on the “custom, culture, economy and environment of Okanogan County,” Wyss wrote.

He said the Farm Bureau also wants the parties involved to consider alternatives and mitigation related to the project and respond to questions regarding water quality, Wyss wrote.

“The initial application documents that were made available to our board did not adequately address … impacts to the surface water and quality of surface waters,” the letter stated.

The bureau also requested information about impacts on grazing allotments on Forest Service land, potential spread of noxious weeds, and protections for agricultural ground water uses. The letter recommended setting up a local advisory committee “to address questions and concerns about the proposed mine.”

The application from Blue River Resources is only for exploratory drilling, which is expected to take about two months, according to the company.

Because it is a short-term mineral exploration that will last less than a year, the project qualifies as “categorically excluded” from extensive environmental studies.

If the company were to request permission to actually mine for copper on Forest Service land, a new round of environmental analysis would be required.

Under longstanding federal mining laws, the Forest Service does not have the authority to deny mineral claims holders the right to explore for and develop mineral resources on federal lands, but can set requirements for projects to meet federal and state environmental laws.