A Montana District Court judge has vacated a water discharge permit for the Montanore Mine, a proposed silver-copper mine, five miles northeast of Noxon in Sanders County, near the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness. The permit was issued by Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality to Hecla Mining Company and its subsidiary, Montanore Minerals Corporation, following the company’s completion of an environmental impact study.
District Judge Kathy Seeley of Helena ruled Friday Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality violated state and federal clean water laws in issuing a discharge permit to Hecla Mining Co. for the Montanore Mine.
Seeley ruled the DEQ did not set adequate pollution restrictions and gave Hecla too long to meet the requirements.
The suit was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of Montana Environmental Information Center, Save Our Cabinets, and Earthworks.
“This is a big win for clean water,” said Bonnie Gestring, Northwest Program Director for Earthworks. “The court affirmed that Montanore cannot make use of a 27-year-old permit that would allow unnecessary pollution of Libby Creek, rather than complying with today’s laws to better protect Montana’s trout streams.”
“It is time for this project to just go away,” said Jim Jensen, executive director of Montana Environmental Information Center.
Hecla spokesman Luke Russell says the company is still reviewing the ruling. The order sends the matter back to the DEQ,
The Project began in the late 1980’s with the partial construction of an underground evaluation tunnel or “adit”. A final Record of Decision allowing the project to move forward was issued by the US Forest Service (USFS) in 1993; however, that authorization was given up by the company who owned the project at the time. In 2016, the US Forest Service again authorized the Project; however, that affirmative decision was remanded by the Federal District Court in Missoula.
In 2016, Idaho based Hecla Mining (the oldest mining company in North America) purchased Mines Management Inc. (MMI), the company which owns the Montanore Project. Montanore Minerals Corp., which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Hecla Mining Company, owns the assets referred to as the Montanore Project.
The project’s state-issued operating permits are also being challenged in a pending lawsuit by Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality, which is suing to stop Hecla CEO Phillips S. Baker, Jr., from proceeding with the Montanore and nearby Rock Creek mine projects based on the agency’s determination that Baker is in violation of Montana’s “bad actor” mining law.
Baker formerly served as Vice President and CFO of Pegasus Gold Corporation, which operated and abandoned multiple cyanide heap-leach gold mines across Montana in the 1990s. The “bad actor” law prohibits mining executives whose companies default on their clean-up obligations from developing new mines in Montana.
A coalition of environmental groups including Save Our Cabinets, Earthworks and Defenders of Wildlife have challenged the project in several court cases and have joined the DEQ’s “bad actor” challenge.
In April, a Montana District Court judge ruled that a permit for Hecla’s other proposed mine– the Rock Creek Mine – is also invalid.