Environmental Groups Sue State Over Montanore Water Permit

Lawsuit states proposed copper and silver mine relies on outdated pollution authorization

By Justin Franz
Montanore Mine. Beacon File Photo

A coalition of environmental groups is suing the Montana Department of Environmental Quality in hopes that a judge will overturn a state water discharge permit for the proposed Montanore Mine near Libby.

The Montana Environmental Information Center, Earthworks and Save Our Cabinets filed the lawsuit in the First Judicial District Court in Helena on Aug. 15. In the suit, the groups argue that the state violated the law by relying on an outdated pollution authorization issued in 1992 to a previous owner of the project. The groups worry that the large mining project would pollute and dewater mountain streams.

Idaho-based Hecla Mining Company purchased the Montanore project in 2016 with its acquisition of Mines Management.

“The water-pollution permit for the Montanore Mine violates fundamental requirements for safeguarding our clean water and the native fish that depend on it,” said Earthjustice attorney Katherine O’Brien. “DEQ should not allow out-of-state companies to use Montana’s prized streams as their industrial waste receptacle.”

Hecla officials repudiated the environmental group’s claims and, in a statement to the Beacon, said the Montanore project would be developed responsibly. The Montanore project has been the subject of numerous lawsuits over the years.

“We are disappointed that these repeat litigants would challenge the Montana Department of Environmental Quality’s decision to issue this permit for Montanore,” Hecla spokesperson Luke Russell said in the statement. “But we are not surprised.”

“The groups involved in the lawsuit are opposed to mining,” Russell continued, “so the merits of the permit application and the data supporting it, the applicable law, and the work by DEQ to evaluate all of the issues over the last several years could never be persuasive to them. We believe that their allegations are without merit.”

The new lawsuit comes just months after a U.S. District Court judge in Missoula overturned federal permits for Montanore, ruling that they had violated sections of the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. At the time, Russell said Hecla was ready to work with federal agencies to update any and all permits.

The Montanore Mine was first proposed in the 1980s and has been owned by a number of companies. Mining officials say the mine could produce 7 million ounces of silver and 60 million pounds of copper annually and employ about 350 people. Proponents say it would be a boon to Lincoln County’s struggling economy.

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