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Judge vacates water discharge permit for Montanore Mine

July 29, 2019

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A judge has vacated a water-discharge permit for a silver and copper mine that would tunnel beneath the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness in northwestern Montana, saying state regulators violated clean water laws in issuing the permit to Hecla Mining Co.

District Judge Kathy Seeley ruled Friday that the Department of Environmental Quality did not set adequate pollution restrictions for the Montanore Mine and gave Hecla too long to meet the requirements.

Her ruling sends the matter back to the DEQ. Agency officials were still reviewing the ruling and declined to comment.

“Hecla’s proposal to mine under the Cabinet Mountains has always been a bad idea for Montana,” said Katherine O’Brien, attorney for Earthjustice, which filed the complaint on behalf of three environmental groups. “This ruling protects clean water on public lands that belong to all of us.”

The decision means Coeur d’Alene, Idaho-based Hecla must comply with current environmental laws to better protect trout streams, said Bonnie Gestring, the Northwest Program Director for Earthworks, which is one of the plaintiffs along with the Montana Environmental Information Center and the group Save Our Cabinets.

Hecla Vice President Luke Russell said Monday the company is still reviewing the ruling, but he said he believed the DEQ made the correct decision in issuing the permits for the proposed mine near Libby.

Friday’s ruling is one of several that have gone in favor of environmental groups who argue two proposed Hecla-owned mines will harm the streams, fish and wildlife in the wilderness area.

In April, Seeley revoked a water permit for the Rock Creek Mine northeast of Noxon, sending the issue back to Montana’s Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.

In separate cases, Montana regulators have asked a judge to block Hecla CEO Phillips Baker Jr. from exploring or opening new mines. They say he is in violation of the state’s “bad actor” law because of ongoing pollution from a bankrupt gold mining company where Baker once worked as chief financial officer. Baker said he was never in control of that company.

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