Senator Steve Daines talks with Hecla ‘s Doug Stiles at the Montanore office prior to their formal presentation on Friday, May 24.
By Tracy McNew
U.S. Senator, Steve Daines, visited Libby on Friday, May 24. He spoke to a group of about 20 community leaders regarding Hecla’s two proposed mining projects; the Montanore and Rock Creek mines.
Daines was joined by Doug Stiles, manager of Hecla’s Montana Operations, and Environmental Coordinator, Nick Raines. He told attendees that he stands in full support of the community’s push to have the two mines permitted. The issue, he said, “transcends political strife,” and can be supported by members of both political parties since mining can occur while ensuring environmental protection.
Following Daines, Stiles spoke briefly and discussed the Troy mine as an example of how mining projects can be done in harmony with the environment.
The meeting’s message was clear, permitting Hecla’s Montana mines can happen, but not without community support.
According to Hecla, “The Rock Creek Mine project will support a healthy economy and environment for NW Montana.” The mine provides 2,500 new acres for grizzly bears as well as road improvements and enhanced sediment controls to improve aquatic habitat.
Hecla is currently working to permit further evaluation at both mine sites, not the entire projects, Raines told The Montanian. The exploration phase would likely last three to four years on each project and employ 20 to 40 people including as many locals as possible.
With eventual full operation of the mines, jobs would be much more numerous and could last for decades, but getting to that point has been an ongoing challenge that began in the late 1980s and continues today.
According to Stiles, “Goals of the evaluation work are to gather additional data to support potential future permitting and design work. Until we are able to gather required data from the underground evaluation work, it is difficult to layout a timeline of events that could follow from there.”
Similar to the process with EPA cleanup, a Record of Decision (ROD) is one milestone intended to be final and allow the projects to move forward with underground evaluation work. To date, though, this has not been the case. A ROD has been issued on four separate occasions for the Rock Creek project, and all four times, legal challenges have been filed. Most recently, the U.S. Forest Service issued a final ROD in August of 2018 for the project, then in January of 2019, another legal challenge was filed by Rock Creek Alliance, Et al. A decision is currently pending.
For the Montanore project, a ROD was issued in 2016 then courts remanded the ROD, Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), and Biological Opinions (BO) back to agencies. The USFS is expected to issue a new draft supplemental EIS in mid-June and community members are encouraged to weigh in, in favor or against, said Stiles, during the comment period that will follow.
Other ways to get involved include reaching out to your congressional delegation, local representatives, and following the projects on Facebook.