WASHINGTON—Environmentalists and business owners near Yellowstone National Park are gearing up for a public fight against gold mining proposals that they claim would destroy the local economy by driving tourists away from one of the nation’s most visited parks.
The mines would be in Park County, Montana, a gateway community for Yellowstone National Park.
In June 2015, Canadian mining company Lucky Minerals Inc. proposed digging a mine in Emigrant Gulch, 17 miles north of the northern edge of Yellowstone National Park to remove gold, copper and other minerals. Washington state-based Crevice Mining Group wants to mine for gold east of Gardiner, directly bordering the park.
The state Department of Environmental Quality said it plans to complete a draft Environmental Assessment for Lucky Minerals before the end of summer; the public then would have two to three months to comment on it. The agency has not yet announced when it will release a draft report for the second proposed mine.
“I don’t know of a time that DEQ has ever denied a project, but this comment period will be crucial in generating enough comments to make DEQ prolong the process and make it harder for the companies to proceed so they withdraw their proposals,” said Michelle Uberuaga, executive director of the Park County Environmental Council.
With enough pushback from the local community, Uberuaga said, the DEQ may require an environmental impact statement, which is more detailed than an assessment and could delay the process another year or two.
The exploration sites would be located in Paradise Valley, a major river valley of the Yellowstone River in southwestern Montana.
Officials of Lucky Minerals and Crevice Mineral did not respond to requests for comment.
According to the National Mining Association, Montana’s 309 mining operations employed 9,280 people in 2012, paying an average $78,986 per year. The industry generated $2.6 million in 2012, about 6 percent of the state’s GDP.
Local businesses formed the Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition in December to combat these proposals, which the group claims would be devastating to the vital tourism industry in Park County, Montana, where Paradise Valley is located.
Karrie Kahle, who helped found the coalition, said these two mining proposals would lead to “permanent and potentially devastating impacts” on the Yellowstone River, which is the “lifeblood” for the Park County economy.
“A major part our economy in Park County is based around tourism, and while it is a proven and sustainable economy, two large-scale mines would destroy that,” Kahle said. “The potential for devastating effects to our community is real, both to our economy and way of life.”
Kahle works as the events coordinator for Chico Hot Springs Resort & Day Spa, located at the entrance to Emigrant Gulch.
“Our business revolves around a hot spring that comes from somewhere in the Emigrant Gulch area,” Kahle said. “Lucky Minerals is proposing drilling exploratory wells up to 2000 feet deep, deeper that anyone has drilled in the area before.
Other businesses within the coalition are involved in real estate, fly fishing, specialty shops—all companies that rely on the tourism industry of the Yellowstone river to thrive. Since its inception, over 200 business have joined.
“While not anti-mining, we recognize not all mining is created equal,” the website reads. “Our gateway communities surrounding Yellowstone are no place for sulfide gold mines.”