By Justin Franz, MT Free Press
Officials with an Idaho-based mining company developing two large copper and silver mines in Northwest Montana said they are undeterred by a recent ruling that could let the state label its CEO a “bad actor” because of a failed mine clean-up more than two decades ago in a different part of the state.
Having CEO Phillip S. Baker labeled a “bad actor” could derail Hecla Mining Company’s efforts to develop the Rock Creek and Montanore mines, two projects in Lincoln and Sanders counties that have been in the works for decades. One reason the company might not be worried is that the new occupant of the governor’s mansion in Helena has been a vocal proponent of the projects.
The projects were first proposed by different companies in the early 1980s. Mining officials have said that together the two mines beneath the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness could produce more than 500 million ounces of silver and 4 billion pounds of copper, making them one of the largest untapped deposits of either mineral in the world. Both projects have been bogged down in the state and federal permitting process for decades, shepherded by two small mining companies, including one that ran the now-shuttered Troy Mine. That extended process frustrated local officials, who said the mines could provide much needed employment in one of the most economically depressed regions of the state. In Libby, just 18 miles from Montanore’s development adit, signs declaring “We Support Montanore” are common in storefront windows.