A controversial silver and copper mine that would have tunneled under the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness Area may have just been shafted.
U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy
ruled on March 28 that construction of the Rock Creek Mine on the
edge of the northwestern Montana wilderness area would further
jeopardize threatened populations of grizzly bear and bull trout.
The ruling throws out a 2003 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
biological opinion that had given a green light to Revett
Minerals’ mine proposal.
Mountains’ grizzly population has already dwindled to about
15, and "contemplating the loss of additional bears related to the
mine is not rational," the judge wrote. His ruling also disagrees
with the agency’s conclusion that the loss of Rock
Creek’s bull trout would not significantly impact the
survival of the species.
Unless the Justice Department
appeals Molloy’s decision, the Service will probably rewrite
its biological opinion to include more protection for wildlife
— a familiar exercise, since its 2003 opinion was also
revised (HCN, 2/18/02: Battle brews over a wilderness mother lode).
William Orchow, president of Revett Minerals, remains
optimistic: "We believe that this project is going to go forward."
Environmental groups, also concerned about downstream
water pollution, aren’t taking any chances, however.
They’ve filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s
issuance of water discharge permits for the mine. Meanwhile, the
nearby Troy Mine, which Revett Minerals recently took over and
reopened, is under investigation. Environmentalists charge that
barrels of toxic chemicals were illegally buried in the tailings
ponds while Asarco was operating the mine between 1981 and 1993.