The burst water main being repaired on the corner of West Oak Street and Main Avenue early on Thursday morning., August 1. Photo by Zach McNew, The Montanian
By McKenzie Williams
On Friday, July 26, District Judge Kathy Seeley of Helena invalidated the state-issued water pollution permit for the Montanore Mine. The permit will now need to be reassessed by DEQ and amended to meet new court-ordered requirements before it can be reissued. At this point, it is unknown how long the process may take.
The proposed project, located 18 miles south of Libby, would mine copper and silver underground. Development of the mine would provide up to 20,000 tons of ore per day for up to twenty years according to recent reports. It would also employ 450 people at peak production.
The District Judge’s ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice. Earthjustice is a non-profit organization dedicated to litigating environmental issues. Earthjustice represented Montana Environmental Information Center, Earthworks, and Save Our Cabinets in this lawsuit.
The District Court Judge ruled that DEQ failed to set appropriate pollution restrictions and allowed Hecla too long to meet the set requirements.
This is not the first time that a permit has been vacated in response to lawsuits filed on behalf of environmental protection groups. There is a significant history of repetitive legal action following permitting that leads to unpredictable outcomes and timelines
In a recent press release from Earthworks, Mary Costello executive director of Save our Cabinets said, “ This decision protects streams that are fed by wilderness waters, which by their very nature, are crucial for our native trout. The decision also makes clear that mining companies are not free to pollute our rivers and streams with unchecked mining waste.”
Hecla maintains that it will be able to protect the environment and create jobs with the opening of new mines in the area.
In a recent Facebook post, Hecla Montana said, “The decades-long fight to permit the Montanore Mine continues, plagued by never-ending lawsuits from anti-mining groups.
Luke Russell, Hecla’s VP of External Affairs added, “This permit was originally issued in 1997, renewed in 2006 and again in 2015, and receiving waters remained protected. The 2015 renewal included the most stringent limits yet, and so the court action essentially sent back to DEQ the permit with the most protections to the receiving waters.”
Judge Seeley concluded that Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) violated provisions of the federal Clean Water Act and Montana Water Quality Act in issuing the discharge permit to Hecla Mining Co. for the Montanore Mine.
Groups involved in the lawsuit said the court determined that DEQ unlawfully relied on an outdated pollution authorization, which originally was issued in 1992 to a different company for a different project.
Water main break affects Libby
By Dawn Manchester
A water main break was discovered on the morning of Thursday, Aug. 1, when hundreds of Libby residents woke without running water. According to recent reports, the burst happened late on Wednesday, July 31.
For those who had water, officials asked them not to water their lawns, and to be very cautious of their water usage.
After a long day of work, a temporary fix was applied to the main, and water was restored on Thursday evening.
Workers have since received necessary parts and more permanently repaired the broken main on Friday, August 2.
After water is shut off, officials remind residents that running your water for a few minutes to clear out sediment build up is important. Do not drink dirty water, it can be unhealthy to consume.
According to City Administrator, Jim Hammons, the burst was likely caused by abandonment to an old PP-L line that was previously capped but when it broke, it affected a larger, ten inch line.