Montana Supreme Court: Stricter permit needed for Rock Creek Mine

2012-10-30T20:30:00Z 2012-10-31T05:51:46Z Montana Supreme Court: Stricter permit needed for Rock Creek MineBy ROB CHANEY of the Missoulian missoulian.com
October 30, 2012 8:30 pm  • 

The Rock Creek Mine can’t use a general water discharge permit to build its access roads because those roads would threaten a population of bull trout in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, according to the Montana Supreme Court.

A four-justice majority ruled this week that Revett Silver Co. needs a more site-specific permit with greater public review before it starts a five-year effort to develop its copper and silver mine north of Noxon.

Writing for the majority, Justice Michael Wheat said the state Department of Environmental Quality erred in granting a general permit if the “point source will be located in an area of unique ecological or recreational significance,” according to Montana law.

The justices agreed with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks research showing that Rock Creek is an essential bit of bull trout habitat that cannot be replaced if damaged. And they supported a U.S. Forest Service conclusion that road construction over five years would fill the stream with sediment that could “result in permanent loss of the Rock Creek bull trout stock.”

Justices Mike McGrath, James Nelson and Brian Morris agreed with Wheat to uphold a state district court ruling rejecting the general permit. Justices Jim Rice and Patricia Cotter dissented.

Dissent author Rice argued that the court majority based its decision on “a very selective review of the evidentiary record and one that is contrary to the record as a whole.”

Rice said he thought DEQ properly decided the matter and the courts should have deferred to the agency.

He also argued that the area already suffers from a century-old network of logging roads that dumped 379 tons of sediment a year into Rock Creek. Revett’s improved road is expected to add 1,415 more tons to that load. But Rice noted the company’s road plan accounts for all of that discharge, plus improvements that would remove an additional 54.9 tons a year.

***

On Tuesday, Revett president John Shanahan said while he was pleased to convince some of the justices, the company planned not to appeal the decision.

“The reality is the Supreme Court has ruled,” Shanahan said. “We’re in the process of completing our (individual) permit, and that should be out in January or February of next year. It’s a different process. It involves a public comment period, but it won’t change the nature of the work we’ll be doing. We believe it will improve critical habitat, and won’t endanger the bull trout spawning areas.”

The Rock Creek Mine was proposed in the 1980s and took more than a decade of analysis before the state and U.S. Forest Service completed a joint environmental impact statement in 2001. In that time, several environmental and conservation groups challenged the project on grounds it would hurt threatened or endangered species like bull trout and grizzly bears.

Revett sought a general storm water discharge permit from the state in 2008 to upgrade about 12 miles of forest road, of which three miles ran next to Rock Creek. In July 2011, a district court judge ruled the general discharge permit wasn’t strict enough to protect the bull trout fishery.

“They issued the discharge permit knowing there would be significant impacts and knowing the significance of bull trout in Rock Creek,” said Bonnie Gestring of Earthworks, which joined the Clark Fork Coalition, Trout Unlimited and the Rock Creek Alliance in opposing Revett. “This decision will require they go back and obtain an individual permit and take steps to protect the fishery.”

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at rchaney@missoulian.com.

Copyright 2015 missoulian.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(4) Comments

  1. Montanaminer
    Report Abuse
    Montanaminer - October 31, 2012 9:53 pm
    I agree with two of these comments. Revett has proven that it knows how to take care of the environment and the people that work for them and how to be a giving company. All of us that work up here want to have clean water and like the outdoors just as much as anyone else if not more because most of us were born and raised here and love this place. I'll tell you something else, there will be ALOT of folks that will jump at being able to move back to be able to work at the Rock creek mine when it gets started. There will be a lot of people that will need training, but if history repeats itself the mine will be just like Troy full of men and women from around the area that are thankful they have a good paying job in the place they grew up and want to raise their kids the same way.
  2. hugaminernotcostello
    Report Abuse
    hugaminernotcostello - October 31, 2012 5:18 pm
    I think that the total picture to be considered is that the MT SC refused to defer to the Biological opinion of USFWS, that the USFS, DEQ, and the 9th circuit agreed with--all entities that have looked at the Bull Trout mitigation in its entirety and arrived at a completely different conclusion. The plan as proposed by Revett would decrease current sediment loads that go into Rock Creek by 60 tons per year. Anyone who actually cares about clean water and the fish that live in it should be pushing for the Rock Creek project. The permit was for road improvements! But what do I know. I am just an unemployed logger that was trained by Revett to work underground as a miner and ultimately become a shareholder of the company. The company that has done nothing but benefit the communities that surround it and the people that live in them.
  3. mtminer77
    Report Abuse
    mtminer77 - October 31, 2012 4:28 pm
    Splitting our communities up? Not hiring locally? Not shopping or spending money locally? Environmental damages? Wow.
    Anyone who wants to hear and see the truth for themselves is welcome to come up to OUR Troy mine and talk to the locals that have been hired and trained from T.Falls, Noxon, Trout Creek, Libby and Troy--there are over 200 of us by the way. Everyone of us (we are all shareholders of Revett) are very proud of the fact that OUR company spends over a million dollars in payroll each month to locals in our area and over two million in the local and regional communities on goods and services. We would spend all of it local but we have to import some things we use from over seas, something that everyone in the country should be concerned about. All of those dollars get turned over and over, and let's not forget about the metal mines taxes we pay as well. Come on up to our Troy mine, which is almost identical to what the Rock Creek will be, and look at our 30 years of monitoring and baseline data showing no impacts to the BULL TROUT stream less than 400 ft from our tailings.
  4. coachwrite
    Report Abuse
    coachwrite - October 31, 2012 12:19 pm
    The mine and its opening has split our community between the economic benefits (Jobs: will Revett hire and shop locally? Their history indicates otherwise) and the damage to the environment (One word: Libby). The Superfund continues to be LOL as the corporations pay lip service, declare bankruptcy, then re-incorporate to stick the local taxpayers with the cost of the clean up. Everyone welcomes the boost to the economy in Sanders County as long as the the mining company delivers on their promises to live up to their responsibilities to our residents: add significant employment opportunities AND keep our river, soil, air, and water table safe from pollution.
    Kudos to our Montana Supreme Court for taking the total picture into consideration when delivering such an important decision impacting future generations in our beautiful state.
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