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Environmental Group to Sue Hecla for Alleged Clean Water Act Violation

Hecla denies any wrongdoing at shuttered Troy Mine in Lincoln County

An environmental group says it will sue an Idaho mining company over allegations that it has violated the Clean Water Act at its now-shuttered mine in Lincoln County.

The Western Environmental Law Center wrote a letter to the Hecla Mining Company on Nov. 29 stating its intention to file a lawsuit against the company in 60 days over allegations that wastewater from the Troy Mine has been contaminating a nearby creek for years.

“The Montana Department of Environmental Quality has determined that Lake Creek is impaired and not meeting water quality standards due to pollution from nitrite plus nitrate, copper, lead, and sediment,” the letter states. “DEQ has determined that the Troy Mine tailings impoundment is a likely source of metal pollution in Lake Creek.”

The DEQ confirmed that Lake Creek is impaired and has not been meeting water quality standards.

In a press release from the Western Environmental Law Center and Montana Environmental Information Center, attorney Andrew Hawley blamed the DEQ for failing to hold mining companies accountable for their actions.

“Polluted water has seeped from the unlined tailings impoundment at the Troy Mine into Lake Creek every day for the last five years, and every day for many years before that,” said Andrew Hawley with the Western Environmental Law Center. “If DEQ would do its job, we wouldn’t have to go to court to force action on this obvious source of illegal pollution, but here we are.”

In a statement to the Beacon, DEQ spokesperson Kristi Ponozzo said the agency “is reviewing the letter and the issues presented.”

According to the law center’s letter, the water issues at the tailings impoundment adjacent to Lake Creek date back more than a decade to when the Troy Mine was being operated by the Revett Mining Company. The Troy Mine first opened in the early 1980s and was operated until 1993. Revett reopened it in 2005 and operated it for another 10 years. Hecla purchased Revett in 2015 and decided to permanently close the copper and silver mine located just south of its namesake community.

Luke Russell, spokesperson for Hecla, said the company disagrees with the allegations outlined in the letter and noted that the Troy Mine was in compliance with all permits.

“These allegations go back to 2005, 10 years before we acquired the property, and had never been raised before,” Russell told the Beacon. “This illustrates the true intent of these serial litigants to block responsible economic opportunities for Northwest Montana.”

Since 2015, Hecla has been slowly dismantling and remediating the Troy Mine facility. Processor buildings are being taken down, and the tailings impoundment is being covered with topsoil. Hecla officials say that when it is all done within the next three years, it will be hard to tell there was ever a mine there.