Community Delegation To Federal Agencies Returns Hopeful
Craig Barringer, Libby Public Schools Superintendent, Jerry Bennett, Lincoln County Commissioner, Carol Brooker, Sanders County Commissioner, Tina Oliphant, Kootenai River Development Council Executive Director, Diane Rewerts, W. F. Morrison Elementary Principal, and Bruce Vincent, President of Environomics in Libby recently returned from our nation’s capital.
The NW Montana Community Delegation met with Washington officials in the Department of Interior, Department of Agriculture, US Fish & Wildlife, US Forest Service, and our federal delegation.
“Our message was one of urgency in getting personnel in place within the USFS and USF&W in order to complete the work needed to respond to Judge Molloy’s rulings concerning the Rock Creek Mine and the Montanore Mine,” said Diane Rewerts. Craig Barringer said “I was pleased to participate and represent our schools and our community in assisting the Hecla Mining Company and the Kootenai National Forest move those two projects through the approval process for their Evaluation and Exploration Phases.” Commissioner Bennett added that “our communities are partners with the managing federal agencies and Hecla, and we went to DC to drive home the need to staff those agencies so their work can be accomplished and the projects can move forward in months and not years.”
At each stop, the community members underscored the importance of both of these projects to our families, our schools, our businesses and our local governments. “We also stressed that the vast majority of citizens in our area believe that it is of critical importance to protect the environment we love and over 80% of the public supports both mining projects if they are done right,” said Commissioner Carol Brooker. “We believe Hecla is the right partner to operate these mines and protect our environment.”
The team of community representatives were pleased with the meetings, and hopeful about their effect on expediting the already arduous 20 plus years invested in the permitting process. “The reception we received at each of our agency meetings was very positive. When the human resources needed were outlined to the agencies we were given assurances that meeting those staffing needs can and would be accomplished,” Vincent said, and “importantly, USFS Chief Tom Tidwell indicated that he would prioritize the projects in Washington just as the Kootenai has prioritized them in NW Montana.” Tina Oliphant added that ‘While the Chief expressed there were issues to resolve in completing these tasks, he said that he would get as creative as needed to move appropriate resources to the Kootenai and do so quickly.”
Bennett pointed out that ‘Chief Tidwell assigned tasks of moving forward to his staff on the spot and we were told the following day in subsequent meetings that work was already underway.”
Rewerts said “Meetings with our federal delegation were similarly positive. We were pleased to learn that the entire delegation and their staffs were finely tuned in to the current state of both Rock Creek and Montanore. We were encouraged to hear that they are eager to assist and are willing to take action to marshal the process along.”
Barringer said that “Our group left the nation’s capital with a great deal more hope than we arrived with. To a person, the people we met with expressed a commitment to take action that would yield forward movement.”
“Our community delegation told the story of our area’s social and economic state and it seemed to make a difference to every decision maker we met,” said Vincent.