A judge in the US state of Montana has reversed the award of a water-use permit for Idaho-based Hecla Mining subsidiary, RC Resources’ Rock Creek silver/copper mine.
Montana District Court Judge Kathy Seeley sided with plaintiffs who argued that their concerns regarding the impact that the planned groundwater pumping for the mine would have on streams in the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness area were not adequately considered.
They had asked the court to vacate RC Resources’ water use permit and to remand the matter to the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC).
In a ruling last week, Seeley ordered that the application for a water use permit be reversed and that the matter be remanded to the agency for further consideration.
The plaintiffs include Fork Coalition, Rock Creek Alliance, Earthworks and Montana Environmental Center.
Environmental groups cheered the ruling, declaring it a “major victory for the Cabinet Mountains, the threatened fish and wildlife that depend on its cold, crisp streams, and for all who care about safeguarding clean water”.
According to Clark Fork Coalition, Hecla’s own analysis showed that groundwater pumping for this large-scale mine, which would tunnel beneath a fragile wilderness area, would permanently de-water some pristine streams classified by Montana as outstanding resource waters.
Local newspaper, Daily Inte Lake, quoted Hecla VP of external affairs Lake Russell as saying that the company is concerned that the ruling will “greatly expand” what the DNRC has to consider for awarding a water-use permit. He reportedly said that the Rock Creek mine’s next step could proceed without a water-use permit.