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Coldwater Comes Out Against Mine Company Says Lake ‘Too Precious A Resource To Be Put At Risk’

Coldwater Creek, one of North Idaho’s largest employers, is lending its economic muscle to oppose plans for the Rock Creek mine in Montana.

The Sandpoint based mail-order catalog company has purposely stayed out of local political battles until now. But company president Dennis Pence said the Asarco Inc. mine and its potential to pollute Lake Pend Oreille was too important an issue to remain silent.

“Damage done to this wilderness area could last for thousands of years and have a disastrous effect on the adjoining watershed, seriously eroding quality of life for future generations,” Pence said in a letter to Idaho Gov. Phil Batt. The letter noted Coldwater’s payroll last year of $19 million.

Pence sent his comments to the U.S. Forest Service and Montana officials to formally object to Asarco’s proposal to mine in the Cabinet Mountains.

The proposed copper and silver mine has drawn controversy for years. It would be located just across the Idaho border in Noxon, Mont. It would be one of the largest mines in North America and employ about 350 people. It also would pump millions of gallons of wastewater into the Clark Fork River, which pours into Lake Pend Oreille.

“Our lake is too precious a resource to be put at risk,” Pence wrote, adding that he supports local job creation. “But a project of this magnitude, with the potential for significant environmental damage, should be based on criteria that go beyond the number of jobs provided.”

Coldwater’s plunge into the fray over the mine puts them at odds with the Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce. Coldwater has a service center in Coeur d’Alene and is a member of the chamber. But the chamber sent a representative to a public hearing in Sandpoint to voice support for the Rock Creek mine.

The Coeur d’Alene chamber was roundly criticized in Sandpoint, and by some of its own members for favoring the mine. The chamber suffered more ridicule when residents found out their spokesman, Lori Barnes, was also a paid Asarco employee.

Officials at Asarco, a New York-based company, could not be reached late Monday.

Coldwater exudes an environmentally responsible and friendly image. The company’s retail store is in an old log bridge over Sand Creek, and it markets wildlife prints and animal-shaped jewelry.

“Having North Idaho’s largest employer coming out on this issue is very important,” said Diane Williams. She is the Idaho director of The Rock Creek Alliance, a group that has fought hard to stop Asarco’s project.

“Coldwater is very much into wildlife and wilderness and protecting those types of values. Hopefully their coming out will encourage other companies to do so.”

Coldwater has backed many causes in Sandpoint, mostly behind the scenes. The company recently offered help to improve the school system here. Troubles in the district were making it difficult for the company to recruit executives and their families to the area.

Similarly, Williams suspects it would hurt Coldwater’s environmental image if the company ends up based in a town with a lake polluted by mine waste.

Coldwater officials said they studied the mine, toured another Asarco mine in Troy, Mont., and talked with experts on the new technology Asarco wants to use to prevent water pollution.

“The pristine wilderness surrounding Rock Creek and the watershed running through it are simply too valuable to be used as a testing ground for untried technology,” Pence wrote.

Lindsay Nothern, a spokesman for Gov. Batt, said he just received Coldwater’s letter opposing the mine and will respond to it. “We don’t have a whole lot of authority in the mine-permitting process, but we are concerned about the purity of the lake,” said Nothern.

Environmental groups and some Sandpoint residents have criticized the state, local government agencies and the Sandpoint chamber for not coming out with strong statements against the mine.

The Sandpoint chamber has decided it’s too controversial and its members cannot agree on a statement. Sandpoint Mayor David Sawyer noted over the last four years the city has passed three resolutions opposing the mine because of water quality concerns.

Gov. Batt has written to Montana Gov. Marc Racicot and called for strict water quality standards to be set for the mine. In the letter he called Lake Pend Oreille a “priceless Idaho treasure.”

“We are doing what we can,” Nothern said. “We want to make sure they (Asarco) are in compliance with Idaho water quality standards and that is what we will hold the company to.”

, DataTimes MEMO: Cut in Spokane edition

This sidebar appeared with the story: PROPOSED MINE The proposed copper and silver mine would be located just across the Idaho border in Noxon, Mont. It would be one of the largest mines in North America and employ about 350 people.

Cut in Spokane edition

This sidebar appeared with the story: PROPOSED MINE The proposed copper and silver mine would be located just across the Idaho border in Noxon, Mont. It would be one of the largest mines in North America and employ about 350 people.


 
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