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Lead at core of forest conflict

November 28, 2001
By:
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - A U.S. Forest Service study that would permit lead exploration in the Mark Twain National Forest has received criticism from Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon. However, the Forest services said Tuesday that Nixon's comments may be premature.

"Many of the Attorney General Nixon's comments have to do with mining issues. At this point, this project is about exploring," Charlotte Wiggins, spokeswoman for the Forest Service, said.

If the Forest Service grants them a permit, the Doe Run Company, one of the largest lead producers in the world, would be able to prospect for lead on public land. The company could drill up to 232 exploratory holes in the southeast Missouri communities of Viburnum and east of Bunker, Nixon said in his letter.

In response to Doe Run's application for a prospecting permit, the Mark Twain National Forest prepared an environmental assessment to measure the environmental impact of prospecting for lead on national forest lands. The public had 30 days to comment. During the comment period, which ended Nov. 21, more than 50 letters were received.

One letter sent to the Forest Service was from Nixon who said that the environmental study was insufficient and it failed to disclose where the holes would be drilled.

Nixon said that the failure of the Forest service to discuss the location of the bore holes makes it impossible for the public to comment on potential environmental impacts of Doe Run's prospective permit.

The Forest Service said that Doe Run can request that the location of the holes be kept confidential.

"Under the Freedom of Information Act, Doe Run can have those holes protected," Wiggins said. "They have not asked to mine. They have asked to explore."

However, Nixon indicated that exploring and mining cannot be viewed as completely separate from one another.

"This is a major project that should require Doe Run to obtain an environmental impact statement before being allowed to prospect so informed technical objections can be raised and addressed," Nixon said. "When it comes to drilling for lead deposits in the Mark Twain Forest, the Forest Service can't view prospecting as being in a vacuum apart from mining."

The Forest Service said that exploration and mining are two entirely different procedures which will be evaluated separately

"We will be addressing the mining issues if in fact a permit is issued to mine in the forest," Wiggins saidw.

According to Wigins, the Forest service expects to reach a decision whether to allow Doe Run to prospect for lead in public lands within two months.

"If the exploration permit is permitted, and Doe Run decides to seek a mining permit, we go back to square one," Wiggins said.