The following is a press release from the Montana Environmental Information Center:
Meagher County, MT – Montana’s Smith River moves closer toward protection from foreign-owned Sandfire Resources’ (SFR.V) proposed 1,888-acre Black Butte Copper Mine following a ruling in Montana district court. The court found that the state’s review of the mine did not adequately address serious concerns over the safety and environmental impacts of the proposed mine, which would produce roughly 12.9 million tons of acid-generating waste, threatening the water quality and trout populations in the beloved river and one of its major tributaries. The mine would also require massive water diversions, impacting existing water rights.
“The court’s decision is good news for the Smith River and the thousands of Montana families, like mine, that love this river,” said Bonnie Gestring, Northwest Program Director for Earthworks. “Too many mines in Montana have unnecessarily polluted our rivers and streams. We can’t let that happen to the headwaters of the Smith River. The court’s ruling echoes our grave concerns about the potential harm from the proposed mine.”
In June 2020, Montana Trout Unlimited, Montana Environmental Information Center (MEIC), Trout Unlimited, Earthworks, and American Rivers filed the lawsuit in state district court challenging the mine’s operating permit approved by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), alleging that DEQ failed to conduct a thorough environmental analysis and that the agency ignored over 12,000 public comments opposing the mine. The coalition is represented by the nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice.
Montana’s Smith River is renowned for its spectacular scenery, towering limestone canyons, and world-class trout fishery. The Smith River is the only permitted recreational river in Montana, featuring an unparalleled 59-mile stretch with only one public put-in and one take-out point for boaters. The Smith River and its tributaries provide crucial habitat and spawning grounds for regional trout fisheries and water for downstream agricultural lands.
Although Sandfire has begun site preparation, it cannot begin to excavate mine tunnels until it receives separate approval from the Department of Natural Resources Conservation to divert large volumes of water to dewater the mine. That action is also being challenged.