Forest officials to prepare statement on Montanore Mine’s evaluation phase

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The Kootenai National Forest (KNF) will prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the Evaluation Phase of the Montanore Project (Project). The KNF will also prepare new Biological Assessments (BAs) for terrestrial wildlife and aquatic species to be submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for formal consultation. The purpose of the SEIS and new BAs is to address two U.S. District Court opinions and to ensure that Evaluation Phase activities comply with all applicable laws and minimize adverse environmental effects on National Forest System lands.

Through a joint EIS process with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the KNF evaluated the environmental effects of the proposed Project and alternatives and issued a Record of Decision (ROD) in 2016. The ROD documented the KNF Supervisor’s decision to approve an amended Plan of Operations for the development of all phases of the Project consistent with Alternative 3 and Alternative D-R as modified by the ROD (the selected mine and transmission line alternatives). The DEQ issued a ROD in 2016 that documented the DEQ Director’s decision to conditionally approve amendments to the provisions of the existing DEQ Operating Permit for the Project which pertain to the Evaluation Phase only, and to make the permit provisions consistent with Alternative 3 as modified by the ROD (the selected mine alternative). Approval was conditioned on subsequent DEQ approval of the renewal of the MPDES Permit which was finalized in March 2017. In two U.S. District Court opinions issued on May 30, 2017, the U.S. District Court remanded the JFEIS and 2016 ROD back to the Forest Service for further action and vacated the decision. The Court also remanded to the USFWS its 2014 Biological Opinions.

Based on the District Court’s opinions, the KNF decided to prepare a SEIS for the Evaluation Phase and to issue a ROD for the Evaluation Phase. The proposed federal action is approval of a Plan of Operations for the Evaluation Phase of the Project consistent with the Organic Administration Act, Locatable Minerals Regulations 36 CFR 228 Subpart A, and the Multiple Use Mining Act. The KNF is the lead agency for the SEIS. A Draft ROD will be subject to the objection process described in 36 CFR 218. The ROD will document the KNF Forest Supervisor’s decision whether to approve an amended Plan of Operations for development of the Evaluation Phase of the Montanore Project.

The Project is a proposed copper and silver underground mine and associated facilities, including a new transmission line, located about 18 miles south of Libby. The orebody is beneath the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness. Montanore Minerals Corporation, a subsidiary of Hecla Mining Company, would be the Project operator. During the Evaluation Phase, MMC would use an existing evaluation adit on private land in upper Libby Creek, conduct certain monitoring activities, and complete geotechnical and hydrologic studies on National Forest System lands between Little Cherry Creek and Poorman Creek. Prior the Evaluation Phase, MMC would fund or implement access changes and acquire 500 acres for wildlife mitigation.

There is no formal scoping period for a SEIS. When the draft SEIS is complete, the KNF will announce dates, times and places for and accepting public comments in local newspapers and at www.fs.usda.gov/projects/kootenai/landmanagement/projects.

For information on the project, contact Lynn Hagarty, Program Manager, KNF Supervisor’s Office, 31374 US Highway 2, Libby, Montana, 59923, 406-293-6211 lhagarty@fs.fed.us.

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