Coalition challenges water pollution permit for Montanore Mine

By Ben Olson
Reader Staff

A coalition of conservation groups filed a lawsuit on Tuesday asking a state district judge to overturn a water pollution discharge permit for the Montanore Mine Project, which would bore beneath the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness south of Libby, Mont. The plaintiffs include Montana Environmental Information Center, Earthworks and Save Our Cabinets, who are represented by the nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice.

The Mount Polley Tailings Dam Breach on August 4, 2015 sent toxic mine tailings into British Columbia’s Frasier Watershed. Courtesy photo.

According to a statement released by the coalition, the legal action intends to “protect clean water and native trout on wild public lands in northwest Montana’s Cabinet Mountains from pollution threatened by development of a massive copper and silver mine.”

“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 Earthjustic attorney Katherine O’Brien. “DEQ should not allow out-of-state companies to use Montana’s prized streams as their industrial waste receptacle.”

Hecla acquired the Montanore Project in September, 2016 with the acquisition of Mines Management, Inc. Hecla did not respond to attempts to reach them for comment.

“Instead of digging into Hecla’s mining proposal and ensuring rigorous protections for our clean water, DEQ dug up an expired 25-year-old pollution authorization for a different company’s long-abandoned project to green-light excessive pollution from the Montanore Mine,” said Mary Costello, executive director of Save Our Cabinets. “Montanans deserve better from the agency charged with protecting our public waters.”

The coalition’s lawsuit is pending in Montana’s First Judicial District Court in Helena.

Rock Creek Alliance is hosting a pair of special community presentations led by Dr. David Chambers, a geophysicist and noted expert on tailings dam engineering from the Center for Science in Public Participation. “Tailings Dam Failures: Historical Record and the Potential for Future Failures and Fixes,” will address the frequency, type and causes of tailings dam failures, as well as problems inherent in the proposed tailings dam for the Rock Creek Mine.

The first presentation will take place Thursday, Aug. 24 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Sandpoint Community Hall, 204 First Ave. For those unable to attend Thursday, a second presentation is offered Friday, Aug. 25 from 9:40-10:25 a.m. at the invitation of the Lakes Commission.

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