A legal dispute between Mines Management, Inc. and a group from Idaho could delay the Montanore Mine project near Libby.
On March 12, District Court Judge James Wheelis ruled in favor of defendants, including Libby Creek Ventures, LLC, who argue that they have valid mining claims at the Mines Management site.
The ruling stemmed from a 2007 lawsuit where Mines Management requested declaratory judgment to figure out who actually had mining rights in the area south of Libby. The lawsuit also sought damages for slander over statements the defendants had made about Mines Management. That claim hasn’t been resolved.
Exploration for copper and silver under the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness began in the early 1980s. According to CEO Glenn Dobbs, the Montanore Mine holds an estimated 230 million ounces of silver and 2 billion pounds of copper, making it one of the largest deposits on earth.
According to court documents, Libby Creek Ventures has mine claims under the development site and along a 14,000-foot adit that reaches underneath the wilderness.
“The long and short of it is (Mines Management) is plowing ahead as if they have the legal rights to,” said Frank Wall, one of the defendants.
In an interview with the Spokesman-Review, Dobbs said he planned to move forward with the project. He also said attorneys representing Mines Management have filed an appeal of Wheelis’ decision.
According to Mines Management, the Montanore Mine would employ 500 to 600 people during the construction phase and 350 people when in full production. Although environmental groups have questioned the long-term effects of the mine, no one has denied the potential economic impacts on a county that consistently has an unemployment rate in the double digits.
Before the mine project can continue, the U.S. Forest Service must finish an environmental impact statement. Dobbs expects it to be done this year and says once state and federal agencies issue mining permits, work could start immediately on expanding the 14,000-foot adit to reach the copper and silver ore. It would take four to five years to reach full production.
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