Conservationists scored a win in the ongoing battle over mining development on the edge of the Cabinet Wilderness . . .
Montana illegally re-issued a water pollution discharge permit in 2004 for the proposed Montanore copper and silver mine under the Cabinet Mountains, according to a legal ruling that environmental groups are calling “a big win” in the fight to prohibit development of the controversial mine in northwestern Montana.
In her July 24 ruling, District Court Judge Kathy Seeley wrote that the Montana Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) re-issuance of the discharge permit to Hecla Mining Company and its subsidiary Montanore Minerals Corp. was based in part “on arbitrary and capricious decisions,” and violates the federal Clean Water Act and the Montana Water Quality Act. She vacated the permit, and remanded the matter to DEQ for further action consistent with her decision.
Hecla Mining’s proposed Rock Creek Mine near the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness received partial approval from the US Forest Service — enough to build an adit and do some environmental work. By and large, this is a victory for opposition environmental groups . . .
Opponents and proponents of a proposed copper and silver mine in Sanders County are both celebrating after the U.S. Forest Service announced it would issue only a partial approval for the project in an upcoming Record of Decision.
Conservation groups say that the decision to withhold a full development permit for the Rock Creek Mine proves that a massive industrial project should not be developed beneath a wilderness area for fear that it will dewater the land above. But officials with Hecla Mining Company, the Coeur d’Alene-based mining company heading up the project, said that a phased approval has always been part of the plan.
In a letter dated Oct. 31, Deputy Regional Forester David E. Schmid announced that the final Record of Decision would only approve phase 1 of the Rock Creek Project, allowing the construction of a mine adit and an environmental evaluation of the site, which is located near Noxon.
It’s kind of a long shot, but opponents of mining along the edge of the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness are employing “bad actor” law in an attempt to block issuance of mining permits to the Hecla Mining Company . . .
Opponents of Hecla Mining Co’s projects near the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness claim its chief executive officer can’t seek new permits until he accounts for millions of dollars in reclamation work incurred by his previous mining company.
In a letter released Monday, the coalition of environmental groups asked the Montana Department of Environmental Quality to suspend all permitting efforts requested by Hecla CEO Phillips Baker. Baker was formerly chief financial officer of Pegasus Gold Inc., whose bankruptcy in 1998 left the state responsible for at least $33 million in acid mine contamination at the Zortman and Landusky mines between the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation and Malta.
The Pegasus bankruptcy was a major factor in the Legislature updating the Metal Mine Reclamation Act in 2001, with its “bad actor” provision prohibiting officials of uncompleted reclamation efforts from starting new projects.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service had a bad day in court when federal judge Donald Malloy overturned their approvals for construction of the Montanore mine at the edge of the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness . . .
In two decisions issued at the end of May, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Forest Service violated the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Forest Management Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act when they approved a massive mining operation beneath the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness.
Hecla Mining Company is looking to build the Montanore copper and silver mine on the edge of the wilderness, about 18 miles south of Libby. The mine’s presence would require about 13 miles of paved or expanded roads, 14 miles of electric transmission line, wastewater treatment and holding, and tailings and seepage storage. If constructed, it would process tens of thousands of tons of ore every day.
The mine’s surface operations would be in known grizzly bear and bull trout habitat, and its underground activity would extend beneath the wilderness area, potentially draining millions of gallons of water from the local creeks.
It’s not over yet. This past week saw another court hearing challenging the development of the Montanore copper and silver mine on the edge of the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness . . .
The question of whether a proposed mine on the edge of the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness should be judged on its predicted impact or its ongoing development went before a federal judge Thursday.
“If this is not the point where the (U.S. Fish and Wildlife) Service has to determine the straw that breaks the camel’s back, where is it?” Earthjustice attorney Timothy Preso asked U.S. District Judge Don Molloy. “By then, we’re in a world where it’s far too late to do anything about it.”
Montanore Minerals Corp. attorney Mark Stermitz retorted that the whole point of a permitting process was to evaluate a project’s impact over time, as new information develops.
An environmental coalition is challenging the DNRC water permit for the Rock Creek Mine, one of two proposed mines near the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness . . .
A coalition of environmental groups is challenging the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation’s proposed decision to issue a water permit to the company hoping to build a massive copper and silver mine near Noxon.
The coalition, including the Clark Fork Coalition, Rock Creek Alliance, Earthworks and the Montana Environmental Information Center, has alleged that the Hecla Mining Company’s Rock Creek Mine would dewater streams within the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness. The nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice represents the groups.
The formal objection was filed with the DNRC on Sept. 6.
It’s been a long haul getting grizzly bears reestablished in the Cabinet Mountains . . .
In the summer of 1993, biologists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service captured a 2-year-old female grizzly bear in British Columbia, along the North Fork Flathead River about 10 miles from the U.S.-Canada border, northwest of Glacier National Park.
Before loading the 80-pound sub-adult onto a truck and spiriting her 150 miles away to the Cabinet Mountains in northwest Montana, the crew assigned her an official designation — Bear 286.
Biologist Wayne Kasworm affectionately called her Irene.
The bell sounds for the next round of the fight over the Montanore Mine . . .
Environmentalists are challenging U.S. Forest Service approval of a $500 million copper and silver mine in northwest Montana, citing concerns from state officials that it could drain surrounding waterways and potentially harm a species of trout protected under federal law.
The lawsuit filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Missoula challenges the Montanore Mine south of Libby near the Idaho border. Sponsor Mines Management Inc. of Spokane, Washington, has been seeking a mining permit since 2004.
But three groups said in Friday’s lawsuit that the government’s authorization for Montanore ignored studies of the mine’s environmental effects. Those government-sponsored studies concluded the mine potentially could drain groundwater supplies that feed into creeks and a river in the pristine area, an effect that could linger for centuries.
Coeur d’Alene-based Hecla Mining Co. officials said they expected the environmental review to reach the U.S. Forest Service on Tuesday, with publication expected in the Federal Register on Friday. That starts a 45-day comment period.
Hecla took over Revett Mining Co. in June, paying Revett shareholders $20 million in Hecla stock in the deal. That spelled the closure of Revett’s Troy Mine, but gave greater impetus on opening the larger Rock Creek Mine project five miles northeast of Noxon, in Sanders County. That mine holds a purported 229 million ounces of silver and 2 billion pounds of copper.
As expected, the proposed Montanore mine near the edge of the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness received only partial approval from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality . . .
Montana environmental regulators granted conditional approval Friday to a long-stalled silver and copper mine proposed beneath a federal wilderness area, saying the developer must show before mining can proceed that the $500 million project won’t drain overlying creeks.
Department of Environmental Quality Director Tom Livers said the agency was approving an air quality permit and a transmission line that would connect to the Montanore mine. Yet that leaves its operating permit still in question, drawing a backlash from Republicans in the state’s Congressional delegation who urged full approval.
Developer Mines Management, Inc. pledged to move forward despite the state’s concerns over water supplies in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness.