Bunker Hill Mine owner dies at 71
EPA critic Hopper had dream of reviving full-scale operation
Bob Hopper bought the defunct Bunker Hill Mine at a salvage sale and never lost his optimism that the old mine could return to its glory days as one of the world’s largest lead producers.
Hopper, 71, died Tuesday at Kootenai Medical Center. He was an outspoken advocate for the mining industry in Idaho’s Silver Valley, but didn’t realize his dream of reopening the Bunker Hill on a large scale.
Hopper will be buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Kellogg near a man he admired – Noah Kellogg, the prospector whose 1885 mineral strike led to the mine’s founding. It’s a fitting resting spot, said David Bond, a colleague and friend.
Hopper was a blunt and colorful figure. “Just say no to EPA” signs were plastered over his vehicles and property.
In 2004, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sued the New Bunker Hill Mining Co., which Hopper owned, over discharges of highly acidic mine runoff. The EPA spends about $500,000 per year treating the water, according to the lawsuit.
Hopper filed counterclaims. The lawsuit over treatment costs remains ongoing, EPA attorney Ted Yackulic said Friday. Hopper was also a vocal critic of the EPA’s cleanup of lead and other heavy metals in the Coeur d’Alene basin.
Robert Dwayne Hopper was born in 1939 in Flint, Mich. After graduating from high school, he traveled to the West where “he mined, logged and drove long-haul trucks,” Bond said.
Hopper was in Seattle in the early 1990s when a flier about a salvage sale at the Bunker Hill Mine in Kellogg caught his eye. The mine and its smelter complex had declared bankruptcy and closed a decade earlier. But it had an intriguing history. Once a major lead and zinc producer, the Bunker Hill Mine is 6,000 feet deep and has more than 150 miles of tunnels.
Hopper attended the sale, intending to bid on some heavy equipment. Instead, he bought the mine.
Hopper ran a small mining operation at Bunker Hill. He talked to a number of investors over the years but never inked a deal to expand the mine’s operation.
A funeral service for Hopper is at 3:30 p.m. today at Mountain View Congregational Church in Kellogg. He is survived by three sons, Tom Hopper, of Mississippi, Tim and wife Beth Hopper, of Wasilla, Alaska, and Bob and wife Joan Hopper, of Balko, Okla.; 11 grandchildren; and 13 great-grandchildren.