There are only a few days left to comment on the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Smith River Mine. The draft EIS is intended to analyze the potential environmental consequences of Australia-based Sandfire Resources’ proposal to build an underground copper mine directly adjacent to and underneath Sheep Creek, a critical headwaters tributary of the Smith River. Your comments will be critical in assuring that the clean water and wild landscape of the Smith River basin is protected from another reckless hardrock mining proposal. Now is the time to speak up, because the river can’t speak for itself.
The proposed mine would drop below the water table, and Sandfire would have to pump water out of the mine to keep it from flooding. The pumped wastewater would contain arsenic and other toxins. Sandfire’s proposed copper mine is particularly concerning because it will tunnel through sulfide minerals, which, when exposed to air and water, can react to form sulfuric acid which produces acid mine drainage. Sandfire is also planning a major expansion beyond its current permit application, and has purchased several nearby mineral leases and claimed several forest service tracts.
The Smith River is an incredibly important resource for Montana and the world. Unfortunately, the draft EIS analyzing Sandfire’s proposed mine is dismally deficient in several respects and does not provide a full accounting of the potential impacts, including:
- The DEIS does not accurately project how much water the mine will remove from the watershed. Further, the modeling used in the DEIS does not account for how much the surface temperature will change when they replace the water they are proposing to withdraw.
- Explosives used in the mine will create fractures in the bedrock. These fractures will create pathways for nitrates (explosives waste) and other contaminants to flow into groundwater.
- Nitrates, along with an increased temperature, promotes the growth of algae. Algal growth decreases the amount of available habitat for macroinvertebrates (fish food), and gravel beds available for spawning.
- The cement-tailings paste that Tintina proposes backfilling the mine with will break down over time. As the cement decomposes, tailings will oxidize, which has the potential to produce acid drainage. Acid drainage could flow through fractures in the bedrock, into the groundwater, and ultimately into the Smith River.
- The Smith River generates $10 million in annual economic activity to the State of Montana. The Outdoor Recreation Industry generates $7 billion in state revenue. Further, outfitters will launch 73 of 1,361 total Smith River permits in 2019. Outfitters create Montana jobs, are responsible stewards, and the money they generate stays in the state and has a substantial ripple effect on the economy—airfare, hotels, travel, etc. The draft EIS should evaluate any potential impacts to this burgeoning and sustainable industry.
- Sandfire is an Australian-owned mining company that will pocket the lionshare of profits and cut-and-run when profitability ceases.
- $50 million annually in Montana tax dollars already goes to mine clean-up. Do we want to add a failed mining experiment on the Smith River to the list, at the cost of existing, perpetual Montana jobs?
- Sandfire has been clear about expanding and growing the operation into a 50-year mining district. The DEIS should evaluate the entirety of the project and its potential impacts, and not allow Sandfire to segment the analysis.
- Fish population analyses are incomplete, and existing data was misrepresented. Brook and brown trout were lumped together in some reports, and sculpin populations were presented in the same graphs as trout.
- Size and frequency-of-length were not considered in evaluating the impact on fish populations—will a certain size class be harmed more substantially than another? This could significantly decrease reproductive success.
Want to send personalized comment directly to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality? You can send comments to:
Craig JonesDepartment of Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 200901
Helena, MT 59620-0901
Please take a few minutes and submit comments to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.