Just weeks after the U.S. Forest Service issued a supplemental environmental impact statement for the proposed Rock Creek Mine, the project’s owner is hosting a series of public meetings in Lincoln and Sanders counties.
Officials with the Coeur d’Alene, Idaho-based Hecla Mining Company said the town hall meetings would give community members the chance to learn more about the effort to develop a copper and silver mine beneath the Cabinet Mountains.
“All of these meetings have the same goal, to help people get familiarized with the project again,” Hecla spokesperson Luke Russell said.
Meetings are scheduled for the Sawtooth Grill in Noxon on March 8, the Elks Lodge in Thompson Falls on March 9 and the Venture Motor Inn in Libby on March 10. Each meeting starts at 6:30 p.m.
Hecla is the fourth company to own the Rock Creek project since the 1980s. It acquired the proposed mine when it merged with the Revett Mining Company in 2015.
ASARCO LLC first applied for a mining permit at Rock Creek, located near Noxon, in the late 1980s. The proposed mine was later sold to the Sterling Mining Company and to Revett in the early 2000s. The USFS and Montana Department of Environmental Quality jointly issued a record of decision for the project in 2001, but the following year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service withdrew its support. Since then, the record of decision and environmental impact statements have been challenged in court on numerous occasions by environmental groups who say the mine would harm the wilderness and the Clark Fork River.
In February, the USFS issued a new supplemental environmental impact statement for the project that addressed concerns about sediment control and ground water at Rock Creek. Its release started a 45-day comment period that will end on April 4.
Russell said the company is hopeful that the USFS will issue a new record of decision in the next year. Once that happens the company would start to build an adit to do mineral exploration and gather environmental data. That information would then be presented to state and federal agencies who would give the final OK to develop the full mine. Russell said the Rock Creek deposit has the potential to produce 2 billion pounds of copper and 200 million ounces of silver. In full operation, the mine would employ more than 300 people.
While mineral prices have recently slumped, Russell said Hecla is undeterred because the Rock Creek Mine could last for three or four decades.
“Hecla is 125 years old, and we see this mine as a foundation for our next 125 years,” he said. “This is a long-term project for us.”
The release of the supplemental environmental impact statement comes as the nearby Montanore Mine is also progressing through permitting process. In February, the USFS and DEQ issued a partial approval, clearing the way for its owner, Mines Management, to do a full evaluation of the mine.
But Bonnie Gestring of Earthworks in Missoula said there are major concerns about dewatering of wilderness streams if both mines are opened. She said her group plans to bring legal action against the Montanore Mine project if the USFS issues a plan of operations that authorizes the entire mine to be developed as described in the record of decision because they believe that would violate state law, since DEQ only gave partial approval. She said it’s too early to tell how her group will react to an approval of Rock Creek.
“The cumulative effects of these two mines could be huge,” she said.
Note: This story was edited to correct a statement made by Bonnie Gestring noting that her group would bring legal action against the Montanore project.