BY PAT HILL
Another proposal to explore for gold in Park County has surfaced, this time near Jardine, Montana, not far from Gardiner. It’s even closer to Yellowstone Park than the proposed Emigrant Peak gold exploration that was scaled back by Lucky Minerals late last year after widespread public comment against the plan.
The Crevice Mining Group, headed up by Michael Werner, and based in Spokane, Washington, wants to explore in the mining district known as the Crevasse or Crevice district, about 10 miles southeast of Gardiner. It borders the Jardine Mining District, and historically mining activity in this district has taken place principally on Crevice Mountain and Crevasse Creek. Placer gold was discovered in Crevice gulch in 1863, and the gold quartz lodes of Crevice Mountain were located in 1879. Mining operations in the Crevice District have never offered overwhelming yields; total production between 1901 and 1939 was 13,357 tons of ore, which yielded 2,770 ounces of lode gold, one ounce of placer gold, and 700 ounces of silver, according to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Though it never produced as well as other area districts like the Jardine and New World districts, mining has continued in the Crevice Mining District off and on over the years, including projects in the 1990s done by TVX Gold Inc., a company Michael Werner worked for.
Werner’s Crevice Mining Group has formally applied with the DEQ in order to conduct exploratory gold operations on Crevice Mountain. Werner has already obtained what is known as a small miner exclusion statement (SMES) from the DEQ. An SMES is specifically for small-scale mining only, and cannot be used for exploration. The SMES also requires that the surface disturbance of the mine be smaller than five acres, and that the operations cannot pollute or contaminate any streams.
Werner wants the exploration permit on Crevice Mountain to operate in tandem with the already-obtained SMES. DEQ spokeswoman Lisa Peterson said the department is looking at ways that Werner’s two permits could be combined so that he can explore in the area.
But before Werner can do any work on the ground he’s targeted, he has to have appropriate access into the area. His options are limited. There’s a county road, Crevice Mountain Road, which would require improvements to be made by Werner before such access would be available via that route. Another route that would also require road improvement is the Sin Nombre Road, which is under the auspices of the Forest Service.
Late last year the Park County Commission tabled a potential agreement with Crevice Mining Group that would have ultimately allowed Werner to make improvements to Crevice Mountain Road. This included a “memorandum of understanding” implying that the county was willing to work with Werner in the future, meaning he could apply to the county for specific road improvements he wanted to make. Environmental groups, area residents, and even the Gardiner Chamber of Commerce questioned the move at a county commission meeting in November, raising concerns about new mining operations in the area, and prompting the commission to put Werner’s request concerning the county road improvements on hold.
“This is not just opening up access to a cabin on Crevice Mountain,” Charles Drimal of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition told commissioners. “This is opening up and enabling access to a potentially large scale mining operation within a mile of Yellowstone National Park.”
The Park County Commission’s decision does not apply to Sin Nombre Road, and Werner was advised to first work with the Forest Service to see if he can attain access via that route.
“Let’s see how the negotiations with the Forest Service works out,” said Park County Commissioner Clint Tinsley. Park County also has a tight road maintenance budget, so also among the county’s concerns is the cost of maintaining an improved Crevice Mountain Road when Werner leaves.
U.S. Forest Service Ranger Walt Allen of the Gardiner District is working with Werner regarding Crevice Mining’s proposal to use Sin Nombre Road. This proposal includes what road maintenance Werner will do, as well as what kind of vehicle traffic will be involved. Though the Crevice Mining Group is amenable to using Sin Nombre Road, other access issues such as conflict with the Forest Service’s current travel plan for the area could come into play, which is why Werner wanted the county’s Crevice Mountain Road access as backup.
There is no formal public comment period scheduled for Crevice Mining Group’s exploratory application because it isn’t required for such proposals, but the DEQ could choose to open one up if there’s a lot of interest in the project. That happened with the Emigrant Peak exploratory proposal last year. The Park County Commission has also not come to a final decision regarding Crevice Mountain Road, and will re-examine the issue on Jan. 20.