BILLINGS – Montana officials conducted an appropriate review before granting a water permit for a proposed silver and copper mine that would run beneath a northwestern Montana wilderness area, the state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.
The 5-2 ruling reversed a lower court decision from 2019 that said officials had failed to consider potential damage to nearby streams from Coeur d’Alene-based Hecla Mining Co.’s proposed Rock Creek Mine.
The mine beneath the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness near Noxon would employ about 300 people and cover almost 500 acres .
The state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation was sued by the Clark Fork Coalition, Earthworks and other environmental groups after granting the water permit in 2018.
Opponents argued more review of the project was needed because water flowing into mining tunnels would deplete or completely drain multiple streams in violation of state water quality laws.
But a majority of justices said in a 75-page ruling that further review was not immediately required, in part because the state Department of Environmental Quality had not raised objections to the permit.
Hecla Vice President Luke Russell said the company was pleased with the decision upholding the permit. The company still needs to resolve a separate legal challenge pending in U.S. District Court before mining can proceed.
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