Environmental review to begin on $250 million copper mineSource: Great Falls Tribune
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The Montana Department of Environmental Quality has accepted the mine application submitted by a developer of a $250 million copper mine north of Meagher County’s White Sulphur Springs, allowing the environmental review of the project to proceed.
The DEQ said Tuesday that it has notified Tintina Resources Inc. that its latest permit application for the Black Butte Copper Project complies with the Montana Metal Mine Reclamation Act.
DEQ is now working on a more detailed compliance document and a draft permit, expected to be completed early next month, said Kristi Ponozzo, a DEQ spokeswoman.
Once they are issued, the DEQ has one year to complete an environmental impact statement.
“We think that will be challenging with a project of this complexity,” Ponozzo said. “We are going to do our best to complete it within a year. We don’t know if that’s going to be possible.”
The project is complex because the proposed mine is brand new and has a high level of public interest.
“We have a lot of public comments we’ll need to respond to and integrate into our EIS,” Ponozzo said. “There are many levels of complexity.”
The proposed mine is located a mile from Sheep Creek, a Smith River headwaters tributary, and 19 miles east of the Smith River and 17 miles north of White Sulphur Springs.
If the mine is approved, rock would be drilled and blasted from the Johnny Lee deposit. Copper concentrate would be extracted from that rock.
The proposal has sparked opposition from environmental groups.
“We expect we’ll see those risks reflected in a thorough environmental impact statement,” said David Brooks, executive director of Montana Trout Unlimited.
Brooks called the acceptance of the application a “small step in a long process.”
The ruling basically means the DEQ looked at the information that Tintina submitted and decided there is now enough information to begin an environmental review.
The group, along with Earthworks and the Montana Environmental Information Center, hired outside industry experts in the fields of hydrology, mine engineering and fisheries biology to assess the application.
They concluded the project could dewater and harm the water quality of Sheep Creek, even if it is located 17 miles from the Smith River as Brooks says Tintina often emphasizes. The tributary is an important trout spawning area, he said.
“To say it’s not connected to the Smith River completely defies the laws of gravity,” Brooks said.
Tintina CEO John Shanahan called the DEQ’s acceptance of the permit a “big deal” and shows “there’s no fatal flaw.”
The project, he said, will be a shining example of how a modern copper mine can be developed.
Misconceptions he’s heard about the project include it will be on the banks of the Smith River and that people will need to portage around it.
“It’s just not true,” Shanahan said. “It is a small, highly designed underground mine 15 miles from White Sulphur. There is no Smith River mine. It’s a fable that’s been created that scares the hell out of people and it shouldn’t.”
Tintina says the proposed underground mine is designed to provide economic opportunity to central Montana while fully protecting the Smith River Watershed.
Ideally a final record of decision would be issued in the fall 2018, Tintinta’s Shanahan said.
To date, Tintina has spent $50 to $60 million developing the mine. Over the next 12 months, it plans to spend another $5 to $6 million. It will cost $250 million to build the mine, Shanahan said.
Sandfire Resources is a 78 percent shareholder in the project. Sandfire is an Australian mining company that owns the Degrussa Mine, a copper-gold mine north of Perth.
The DEQ advertised for proposals from companies to complete the environmental impact statement. The state received proposals from six companies, and is currently reviewing those companies.
The preliminary proposals for preparing the EIS ranged in cost from $400,000 and $1.2 million. The DEQ will recover its costs for paying the third-party contractor from Tintina, Ponozzo said.
Work on the EIS will begin next month, Ponozzo said.
Tintina originally submitted its application for a mining permit in December 2015 but the DEQ said it was deficient and needed more information on geochemical aspects and hydrology.
Tintina provided follow-up information in September 2016. The DEQ issued a second deficiency response letter in December 2016.
Tintina responded this May and DEQ issued a third deficiency letter with a response from Tintina in July.
These responses provided DEQ complete information related to their geochemical testing and hydrologic modeling, the DEQ said.
For more information
The letter from the DEQ to Tintina is posted to the DEQ’s website at: http://deq.mt.gov/Land/hardrock/tintinamines