Montana State Court Blocks Construction of Rock Creek Mine
July 25, 2011
A Montana state court last week blocked construction of Revett Mineral’s proposed Rock Creek Mine beneath the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness in northwestern Montana, ruling that the state improperly relied on a permitting shortcut under the Montana Water Quality Act.
The ruling was the latest in a series of legal setbacks for the controversial copper and silver mine. The courts have repeatedly found the mine plan to be in violation of state and federal laws that protect clean water, fish and wildlife, and public health, resulting in the loss of several key state and federal permits.
Thursday’s decision by Helena district court judge Kathy Seeley focused on the large amounts of sediment that mine construction would release into Rock Creek, a key spawning tributary for bull trout in the lower Clark Fork River. Permitting studies for the mine showed that construction would cause a 38% increase in sediment pollution to Rock Creek, where existing sediment levels are already so high that any increase would impair bull trout spawning. Judge Seeley held that under these conditions, the state was wrong to permit the mine under the generic “general permit” that covers ordinary construction activities across the state and excludes public comment, and instead must prepare an ordinary water quality permit based on the specific conditions at the mine site, and allow for public review.