LIBBY — Federal officials proposed approval of the first phase of a silver and copper mine beneath a northwestern Montana wilderness area amid a legal fight between state officials and the company behind the project, officials said Wednesday.
A final decision is expected in coming weeks on the Rock Creek Mine near Noxon after the Kootenai National Forest released a lengthy environmental study of the proposal, forest spokesman Willie Sykes said
Idaho-based Hecla Mining Co. would initially mine on 20 acres, to determine the feasibility of a full-scale mine that would cover almost 500 acres.
Hecla is proposing a second mine in the area near the town of Libby.
Montana regulators last month asked a judge to block Hecla CEO Phillips Baker Jr. from exploring or opening any new mines in the state.
The state Department of Environmental Quality said Baker and Hecla were in violation of the state’s “bad actor” law because of ongoing pollution caused by a mining company where Baker once worked.
Baker denies the claim, and Hecla has challenged the state’s assertions in court.
The Rock Creek mine would be built beneath the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, raising concerns from conservation groups about potential harm to wildlife and water supplies.
The mine would employ about 300 people and produce an estimated 6 million ounces of silver and 50 million pounds of copper annually, according to Hecla.