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Rock Creek Mine permit upheld in Montana Supreme Court ruling

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Posted at 1:02 PM, Feb 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-18 15:02:21-05

HELENA — The seesaw legal battle over the expansion of the Rock Creek Mine above the Lower Clark Fork Valley has turned back in favor of the developers, as the Montana Supreme Court overturns a lower court ruling which had thrown out a key state permit.

Over two years ago, the Kootenai National Forest issued a decision giving RC Resources -- a subsidiary of Hecla Mining -- permission to further explore the extensive copper and silver deposits northeast of Noxon above the Bull River.

That would have allowed the company to drill a mile deeper under the Cabinet Mountains.

In 2019, a Lewis and Clark County judge overturned a Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) water use permit in the case brought by the Clark Fork Coalition and other groups.

But now, the state Supreme Court has sided with the company and the DNRC, ruling the further review of the water quality impacts won't be "triggered" until the Montana Department of Environmental Quality conducts its own analysis of the mine's water use.

In the 5-to-2 decision, the justices also rejected arguments that the opponents' constitutional rights to a "clean and healthful environment" had been violated by the DNRC permit.

We have seen no immediate reaction from the mine's developers or the opponents.