HELENA - Lincoln-area miner George Kornec, who last year enlisted the help of constitutional advocates in a dispute with the U.S. Forest Service, died on June 17, his family wrote in his obituary.
Kornec, 83, a veteran of the Korean War, earned national headlines late last summer as activists with the Oath Keepers and other groups came to the small mountain community in support of Kornec and his mining partner Philip Nappo. The activists staged an armed operation in defense of Kornec’s White Hope Mine, alleging threats and illegal activity by the Forest Service and demanding due process via a day in court.
The dispute centered on mining claim documents that BLM says were filed one day late in the 1980s, causing Kornec to legally abandon the 1920s claims. The abandonment made White Hope subject to 1955 mining laws that granted surface rights to the Forest Service.
The Forest Service alleged that the miners were out of compliance with federal regulations due to the construction of a garage, storage of explosives, blocking public access and not having an approved operating plan.
Kornec and Nappo contended that an operations plan was unneeded due to the original date of the mining claims, totaling more than 1,000 acres.
Shortly after the Oath Keepers' arrival, the U.S. Attorney’s office filed a civil suit against the miners followed by Kornec and Nappo filing a counter claim. Court documents show legal wrangling between the sides, particularly focused on whether the miners would receive a jury trial.
U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell set fall deadlines for the miners and the government to brief the countersuit as they seek judgement in the case.
How Kornec’s death will affect the civil case filed against him, Nappo and their company Intermountain Mining and Refining, LLC, is uncertain at this point, according to Melissa Hornbein, public information officer with the U.S. Attorney’s office. Proceedings in the case depend on how his assets will be distributed, she said.
Attorney for Kornec and Nappo, Fred Kelly Grant of Idaho, said they plan to continue the case with Nappo as the surviving controller of the company.
“Frankly I’ll tell you it motivates us even more strongly because George’s lifetime dream was tied in that mine and developing it,” he said.
Grant believes the case is still strong from the standpoint of historic ownership and record, with the goal of establishing Kornec as the rightful owner of the property.
Kornec's daughter Denise Freeman promised her father she and Nappo would carry out the lawsuits against the federal government, according to Kornec's nephew Bill Kornec.
"Denise Freeman has inherited George's share of the mine so she and Phil are now the owners of George's White Hope Mine," Bill Kornec wrote in an email to the Independent Record. "At one of my final visits with him, George has requested that we must all fight the out of control government if we are to keep our freedoms. He wishes that more people would make an effort to take control of our land again and not sit idly by and let a minority of patriots do all the work."
Kornec’s family remembered him as an independent man who loved his life in the mountains.
“He was a great brother, father and friend and we will miss him greatly,” they wrote in his obituary.