Daines, Gianforte Urge Feds to Approve Northwest Montana Mines

Montanore, Rock Creek projects have been tangled in delays for more than a decade

By Justin Franz

Montana’s two Republican Congressmen in Washington, D.C. urged the Trump administration this week to approve two massive mining projects in Northwest Montana.

On Sept. 28, Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to green light Hecla Mining Company’s Rock Creek and Montanore Mine projects.

Recent lawsuits against the projects have slowed the approval process for both mines, which some locals say could be an economic boon for an area plagued by some of the highest unemployment rates in Montana.

“Many in the local community are concerned this work will once again be needlessly delayed, this time by the level of agency prioritization and staffing issues for work on the Biological Opinions,” Daines and Gianforte wrote. “We urge you to resolve these challenges as expeditiously as possible.”

Environmental groups and other opponents argue both mines could permanently damage the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness by dewatering streams. In August, the Montana Environmental Information Center, Earthworks and Save Our Cabinets filed a joint lawsuit alleging the state violated the law by relying on an outdated pollution authorization issued in 1992 to a previous owner of the project.

The Rock Creek Mine is located in Sanders County and the Montanore Mine is located south of Libby in Lincoln County. Both mines were first proposed in the 1980s but were shelved for several years in the 1990s. Both projects came under Hecla ownership in 2016 through a series of acquisitions. The two mines could produce more than 500 million ounces of silver and 4 billion pounds of copper in their lifetime. The two deposits are separated by about 7,000 feet of earth and a fault line, suggesting that at one time it was actually one ore body, experts say.

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