Lincoln County Coverage

Oct 31, 2012 12:22 PM by Dennis Bragg - KPAX News

MT Supreme Court upholds ruling for stricter permits at mine in Cabinets

HELENA- The Montana Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a District Court decision that required a controversial mine in the Cabinet Mountains to meet stricter environmental guidelines and more public review.

Revett Silver Company first proposed the Rock Creek Mine back in the late 1980s, hoping to extract copper and silver from tunnels to be bored some three miles underneath the Cabinet Mountains in Northwest Montana. But several groups, including the Rock Creek Alliance, Trout Unlimited, Earthworks and the Clark Fork Coalition have fought the project, arguing it needs much more extensive environmental review.

The groups sued to force the Spokane-based company and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality to go through a complete permitting process, rather than allowing DEQ to issue a "general permit". The groups say that's not allowed under the Montana Water Quality Act when the point of any water pollution is "located in an area of unique ecological or recreational significance."

The proposed mine would be adjacent to the Cabinet Wilderness Area and would drain into the Lower Clark Fork watershed. The conservation groups had also argued the mine would threaten bull trout habitat.

Revett had appealed a Lewis and Clark County District Court ruling. Now the Supreme Court has upheld that ruling in a 4-2 decision. The majority found the Rock Creek fishery is a "unique fishery resource" and that DEQ "failed to consider" all the "relevant factors in the law."

But in the dissenting opinion, Justice Jim Rice argued that the District Court "failed to consider vast portions of the record" in its ruling.

Revett Minerals has called the Rock Creek Mine the "largest undeveloped silver/copper deposit" in North America.

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