Drilling proposal stirs up residents

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A meeting on the Green Mountain exploratory drill proposal near Bayview will be held on Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Sandpoint Ranger Station, 1602 Ontario St. (Photo courtesy of Mike Lee)

A proposed exploratory drilling project along Lake Pend Oreille has drawn a pile of environmental concerns from some Bayview residents across the lake.

Missoula, Mont.-based Pend Oreille Silica Inc. is seeking permission to conduct exploratory drilling on national forest land on Green Mountain in Bonner County.

The company has proposed one site for exploration from which two exploratory holes would be drilled to a maximum depth of 200 feet. The holes would allow the firm to collect subsurface data to determine the silica deposit at that site.

The project area is within the Sand Creek-Lake Pend Oreille watershed on the Sandpoint Ranger District.

"All lands disturbed during the activities in this proposal would be reclaimed and disturbed areas would be reseeded," a Forest Service press release states.

The Idaho Panhandle National Forests will host an informational meeting about the drilling plan on Thursday, Feb. 8, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Sandpoint Ranger District Office, 1602 Ontario St., Sandpoint. The meeting will allow the public to learn and ask questions about the proposed project.

Shoshana Cooper, public affairs officer for the Forest Service, said the agency has worked closely with the company on the proposal.

"This is a fairly standard proposal, and given that limited scope, we have no concerns," she said.

However, Bayview resident Mike Lee said he’s concerned about the project, especially in light of the plans of HiTest Sands Inc., an Edmonton-based company that wants to build a silica smelter just across the border near Newport, Wash.

"If there is any quantity of high purity quartz silica at (Green Mountain) we could be in for big changes," he said.

Lee said the Green Mountain project could hamper residents’ quality of life and outdoor-based economy.

"Mining and smelting companies have a terrible reputation, leaving behind toxic waste and ruined landscapes for future generations," he said. "Bayview is one of those last best places. Bayview has a history of defending our quality of life. This just may be one issue we can all agree on. This is an important elk spot for hunters. When toxic silica dust blows down onto the lake, that would be bad.

"Can a drywall company from Missoula be trusted to care for our priceless natural resources? Too often we take our extraordinary quality of life for granted. Hopefully this is a wake-up call that gets people involved.”

Norma Knowles, another Bayview resident, said kokanee have been brought back, eagles stop each year, and maintaining lake water quality is key.

"I have a lot of concerns about (the drilling project) because it’s wilderness over there," she said. "I’ve lived in Colorado, and I’ve seen how strip mining can open up an area."

Cooper said that at this point, all that is proposed for the Forest Service to consider is one drill site with two holes in an 80-by-30 drill pad using a truck-mounted drill rig.

"The project will not impact any view sheds and will have a very minimal site impact," she said.

For the company to come back and perform more drilling, it would need to submit another plan for the Forest Service to analyze.

"There is always a potential that a company will request more drilling in the future," Cooper said. "However, nothing has been proposed at this point for this company."

Pend Oriella Silica is marketing the deposit on Colliers International, a global commercial real estate services organization. The claims area encompasses 640 acres and another 1,700 acres have been identified for staking and claiming, according to the Colliers listing.

For more information on the Green Mountain proposal or to comment, visit https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=52562 or contact Courtney Priddy at 208-765-7207, cpriddy@fs.fed.us. Written comments can be sent to Priddy at Idaho Panhandle National Forest All Units, 3815 Schreiber Way, Coeur d'Alene, ID 83815.

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