Lincoln County officials are frustrated with former Gov. Brian Schweitzer for putting up what they see as another roadblock in front of the proposed Montanore Mine near Libby. Last week, Schweitzer and a group of investors filed a $10 million compensation claim against Mines Management, Inc., a Spokane-based company that is trying to open the copper and silver mine.
Mines Management Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Glenn Dobbs accused Schweitzer of pushing the company into an unfair deal that threatens the entire project. The former governor says he’s just trying to help move the deal forward by resolving the claims dispute so mining can begin.
Lincoln County officials, including Commissioner Tony Berget and Libby Mayor Doug Roll, said Schweitzer is being a “bully” and is threatening the project that could potentially bring hundreds of jobs to the area.
Berget said Schweitzer had once promised him that the governor’s office would do everything it could to get the Montanore project off the ground and yet today, the 14,000-foot mine adit sits empty and partially flooded.
“When he was elected he said he would get Montanore fast tracked.” Berget said. “Well he was there for eight years and he certainty didn’t fast track it.”
In an Associated Press story, Dobbs also accused Schweitzer of delaying the project while in office. The former governor countered that there was “quite the opposite” and that this current deal was an opportunity to settle any claims issues and move the project forward.
“How would it make sense for us to depress the value of the shares if that’s the way we were hoping to be paid compensation? These are illogical allegations, and they are not true,” Schweitzer said.
Both Berget and Roll say the mine could help turn around Lincoln County’s flagging economy, which has been plagued with the highest unemployment in the state. Dobbs said the mine could annually produce 7 million ounces of silver and 60 million pounds of copper and employ 350 people. However, the project has been delayed for nearly a decade as Mines Management works to receive government approval. The company has also been involved in various legal battles with Optimia, which says the Montanore adit slices right though one of its mining claims and, before the company can start mining, it needs to be compensated for its losses.
Earlier this year, U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen issued a preliminary condemnation order in favor of Mines Management, which began the process of figuring out how much Optimia was owed for crossing its claim. Recently, Schweitzer contacted the company with a deal for $10 million, but Dobbs said that is far too much.
If the two sides cannot come to an agreement in the next 20 days, the court will appoint a three-member commission to settle the dispute. Roll and the others hope the disagreement is resolved soon and mine development begins.
“(Schweitzer) paid lip service to me in support of that mine and then he goes and does this,” Roll said. “It’s just one roadblock after another with this project.”
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