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Opinion: Montana DEQ did the right thing on Hecla mining proposal

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In addition to being a longtime citizen and business owner in northwest Montana, I have been honored to serve the public as an elected state representative and county commissioner. I have lived through the economic chaos that has engulfed our area with the collapse of federal forested lands management, subsequent mill closures and now chronic, multi-decadal poverty.

I have also had the pleasure of working with Hecla Mining Company on their world-class reclamation of the now-shuttered Troy Mine, as well as their efforts to permit two projects that would provide desperately needed jobs in our area while protecting the environment that we live in and love.

It is with this background that I applaud and support the Montana Department of Environmental Quality's decision to drop the case against Hecla's Montana subsidiaries and their CEO, Phil Baker. Hecla has proven itself to be the kind of company that our local area and state should embrace as we look toward a future of resource management and environmental protection.

Their work on the Troy Mine Reclamation Project has been first-class. This effort and their history in similar areas such as Greens Creek on Admiralty Island in Alaska serve as excellent examples of what northwest Montana hopes to look forward to in the decades to come. Hecla has a 135-year history that speaks to their commitment to both the communities in which they operate and cutting-edge environmental protection. Our area needs the family-wage jobs that can come with modern mineral development. We also need and expect the environmental protections that come with modern mining.

I have joined my neighbors and my constituents in being excited that it is Hecla Mining, a proven responsible corporate citizen, that is investing in northwest Montana. Their communication with and support of our communities, especially our youth and education, has already been substantial and indicative of things to come when their proposed mines are approved and operating.

I now join in the area's relief that the state of Montana has concluded that the previous administration had erred in its interpretation of state statute. That position always confused and bewildered me as the state tried to hold an entire company responsible for the past actions of their CEO of over 20 years when he was a young employee of another company nearly three decades ago, especially when those past actions were within the legal framework of the times.

In short, Montana DEQ made the right decision and I applaud the courage it took to do the right thing for our area and our state. As society moves more and more toward alternative forms of energy that will be intensive consumers of both copper and silver, Hecla Mining is the type of company we should want doing business here. Thank you, Montana DEQ. 

Jerry Bennett of Troy is a Lincoln County commissioner.

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