Australian mining boss says work at Slieve Gallion is still 'many years away'
Executive chairman of Walkabout Resources Ltd, Trevor Benson, said they are an open company and would welcome and encourage the views of local people.
Mr Benson claimed notification had been given of their intention to carry out a geological survey in the area last month.
He explained that they were interested in an area to the south west of Slieve Gallion, where there are already quarry works.
"A helicopter flying at low level followed a flight path in this area of the mountain," he said, acknowledging that this may have caused concern to some residents.
"There was no danger to anyone," he stressed. "We are experts in this and have been doing it around the world for many years."
He said they were fully aware of the environmental and scientific importance of the Sperrins and were operating in accordance with the mineral licence issued by the environment office.
Mr Benson stressed exploration was at "a very early stage" and they were still to determine if it was economically viable for them to develop.
He added that any mining in the area would be "many years away."
Walkabout Resources revealed on their website that they had discovered cobalt-silver in Slieve Gallion while prospecting for gold.
The company has signed a joint venture agreement with Koza UK, which has a mineral prospecting licence for a location about 12 miles from Curraghinalt, where Canadian company Dalradian wants to develop a gold mine.
Residents living in the Tirgan and Longfield areas - at the foot of Slieve Gallion - have held public meetings in recent weeks to discuss the prospecting.
It is understood that they have decided to set up a local committee. An online petition has also been launched - 'Say No to Mineral Miners.'
Sinn Féin Councillor Catherine Elattar, who attended the meetings with party colleagues, said neither residents nor local councillors had been made aware of the geological survey.
“At this stage it is unclear what the outcome of that exploration is but residents remain concerned about the proposed mining in the local area and currently trying to gather information,” she said.
SDLP Mid Ulster MLA Patsy McGlone also attended the meetings with party colleague Councillor Christine McFlynn.
“As local SDLP representatives we listened to the concerns and the worries of the local community at both well-attended meetings," he said.
"There are a number of concerns being expressed: health concerns based on some of the experience of mining with the use of cyanide and its potential for damage with the 'tailings' or dregs residue of mining to our local waterways and wider environment – any quick search on the internet will show that.
"The uppermost concern is of course that of the impact to the health of the local residents. Our Sperrin townlands are, by dent of history from the Plantation times, well populated and, consequently, any potential mining cannot take place without having an intrusion upon households and families – our situation in no way resembles the wilds of Alaska, South America or South Africa.
"The wellbeing of the local community must be, first and foremost, our main concern. The insensitive approach by this company to scouring the area with their helicopter, startling animals, and heightening concerns in a quiet rural area displays little respect - they have started on a particularly bad footing.
"We are glad that at the meeting in Tirgan Hall, a packed turnout saw the community moved to the next stage of forming a local committee. All local SDLP Representatives will work closely in support of the community in whatever way we can.”