A flood of phone calls and letters from Panhandle residents has prompted Idaho Gov. Phil Batt to promise state protection for Lake Pend Oreille from a proposed mine upstream in Montana.
Batt said he will take an active role in watching over ASARCO Inc.’s proposed Rock Creek project near Noxon, Mont.
One of his first moves will be to meet with Montana Gov. Marc Racicot to request the two states work together on their environmental concerns. A meeting date has not been set.
In the meantime, Batt is taking action “after receiving hundreds of letters and phone calls from people on and around Lake Pend Oreille.”
“I would first like to make it clear that I regard Lake Pend Oreille as one of our state’s greatest assets, and I will not allow its diminishment,” he said.
Diane Williams of the Clark Fork-Pend Oreille Coalition said the governor’s involvement will bring even more scrutiny of ASARCO’s proposal.
“We just wanted to make sure someone was paying attention,” she said.
ASARCO wants to excavate about 10,000 tons of ore a day for 30 years. However, many fear it would pollute the Clark Fork River and eventually Lake Pend Oreille.
The Montana Department of Environmental Quality and Kootenai National Forest are writing the environmental impact statement, which is expected to take up to a year to complete.
Williams said one of the coalition’s main concerns has been the “kind of slam-dunk of the process of writing the final EIS.”
Batt spokeswoman Amy Kleiner said Idaho still has some say over what requirements ASARCO will have to meet to construct the mine.
“But most will come from Montana,” she said.
Still, Kleiner said the Idaho Division of Environmental Quality is required to ensure clean water throughout the state, and it is implementing rules to comply with federal requirements.
Bonner County Commissioner Steve Klatt said he is glad Batt finally recognized the mining proposal as an “issue of concern.”
Klatt emphasized the county is not opposed to the mining project itself, but fears it could damage the waterways and in turn hurt the local economy.
“I hope he is somewhat forceful with Governor Racicot in letting him know that our water quality is as important to us as mineral extraction is to them,” the commissioner said.
Several hundred Bonner County residents have protested the mine’s construction, fearing its impact on Lake Pend Oreille.