By Reader Staff
Backers of the Rock Creek Mine, proposed near Noxon, Mont., and the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, will need to go back to square one, as a federal district court judge halted the project April 14 due to unlawful initial approval from federal agencies.
The decision is a victory for the conservation and tribal groups that brought the suit, arguing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Forest services failed to adequately consider environmental impacts before approving the mine, which is proposed by Hecla Mining Company.
In the case of the Rock Creek mine, legal counsel for the plaintiffs argued that USFW approved a biological opinion based only on Phase I of the mine’s plan, which included only an evaluation adit, ignoring the biological impacts of Phase II: the actual construction and use of the mine. U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy determined that the one-phase analysis approach was not lawful.
Opponents of the project — which has been in the works for more than 20 years — have long argued that mining would cause detrimental effects to local endangered wildlife populations.
“We are gratified by the court’s decision, which affirmed that the agencies cannot gamble with the fate of imperiled grizzly bears and bull trout by ignoring the full impacts of the Rock Creek Mine,” said Earthjustice attorney Katherine O’Brien, who represented the plaintiffs in the case.
Another longstanding concern is the possible negative effects to local rivers and lakes — including Lake Pend Oreille, which is downstream from the proposed mine.
“We are thrilled with this decision as it represents an important and timely reprieve for grizzly bears, bull trout and clean water that would be irrevocably harmed by the Rock Creek mine,” said Mary Costello, executive director of Sandpoint-based conservation group Rock Creek Alliance.
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