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by Jim Jensen

Idaho-based Hecla Mining Co.’s two proposed mines beneath the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness Area are pretty much at a standstill until several legal issues are resolved.

MEIC and others sued the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) for its decision to grant the Noxon-area Rock Creek mine a water right prematurely. We argued that DNRC failed to consider the serious harm such a water right would have on bull trout, an endangered species. A hearing was held in Helena District Court in the matter in February 2019, with a ruling expected later this year.

A 2017 federal court ruling put the progress of the Montanore mine (also proposed for under the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness Area) in neutral.  Judge Donald Molloy ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Endangered Species Act by insufficiently identifying how the mine would impact grizzly bears and bull trout. Molloy also ruled that the U.S. Forest Service violated the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Forest Service Organic Act, and the National Forest Management Act in approving the mine project in 2016.

Meanwhile, a decision by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) that Hecla and its president and CEO, Phillips S. Baker, are in violation of the “Bad Actor” provision of Montana’s Metal Mines Reclamation Act, because of Baker’s previous involvement with the infamous and bankrupt Pegasus Gold Corp.) That finding puts both mines’ futures in jeopardy as long as Baker is at Hecla’s helm.

There is currently an attempt underway at the Montana Legislature to retroactively amend the “Bad Actor” law to let Baker and Hecla off the hook for the roughly $85 million dollars they owe to the State for reclamation at the failed Zortman/Landusky mines in Phillips county, southwest of Malta in the Little Rocky Mountains.

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