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Judge revokes water permit for mine under Montana wilderness

UPDATED: Mon., April 15, 2019

Exploration of a silver and copper deposit in the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness in northwest Montana has been delayed in part by a long-running dispute over whether Spokane-based Mines Management Inc. can access it by using a tunnel that goes under a man’s nearby mining claims. (Associated Press)
Exploration of a silver and copper deposit in the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness in northwest Montana has been delayed in part by a long-running dispute over whether Spokane-based Mines Management Inc. can access it by using a tunnel that goes under a man’s nearby mining claims. (Associated Press)
Associated Press

BILLINGS – State officials will challenge a court ruling that revoked the water permit for a silver and copper mine proposed beneath a Montana wilderness area, a Department of Natural Resources and Conservation spokesman said Monday.

Judge Kathy Seeley ruled state officials didn’t adequately consider potential damage to nearby streams from Hecla Mining Co.’s Rock Creek Mine northeast of Noxon.

Attorneys for the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation plan to file an appeal, said agency spokesman John Grassy. He declined to offer further details.

The April 9 ruling does not affect the ability of Idaho-based Hecla to conduct exploratory work for the mine, which the U.S. Forest Service gave preliminary approval to last year, company spokesman Luke Russell said Monday.

Environmental groups represented by Earthjustice had argued streams within the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness are so ecologically valuable that they deserve the greatest protections available under law.

Seeley agreed and in her April 9 order sent the matter back to the Department of Natural Resources Conservation for reconsideration.

“It’s great news for wilderness, rivers and streams and the critical habitat they provide for fish and wildlife,” said Bonnie Gestring with Earthworks, one of the groups that challenged the water permit after it was issued in January 2018.

Rock Creek would employ about 300 people and cover almost 500 acres.

Montana regulators in a separate case have asked a judge to block Hecla CEO Phillips Baker Jr. from exploring or opening new mines. They allege he’s in violation of the state’s “bad actor” law because of ongoing pollution from a mining company where Baker once worked.

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