State should reconsider action against Hecla Mining Company

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The Lincoln County Commission wants to share our dismay with a recent decision by Montana DEQ and the Governor’s office to file a violation against Hecla Mining under the “permit prohibition” provision of the Montana Metal Mine Act.

We support the Act’s provisions which holds mining operators responsible for cleanup and reclamation of their mining operations. However, we believe the state is misapplying the statute in this instance. Montana Code Annotated 82-4-360 specifically states: “a person may not conduct mining or exploration activities in this state if that person or any firm or business association of which that person was a principal or controlling member had a bond forfeited under this part, if the department otherwise received proceeds from a surety to perform reclamation on that person’s behalf, or if the person’s surety completed reclamation on the person’s behalf.”

Mr. Phillips Baker, as the Chief Financial Officer, was neither a principle or controlling member of Pegasus Mining, he was an employee with no direct decision authority over mining operations. Furthermore, Mr. Baker left employment with Pegasus in early 1998, well before the state “received proceeds from a surety to perform reclamation” when the Pegasus bankruptcy was finalized in early 1999.

Hecla Mining Company has never had any association with Pegasus. How can Hecla be held accountable for the actions of a company over which they had absolutely no interest? It defies all logic to make one company pay for the actions of another when there is no connection between the two. Not even a Superfund site — which we are all too familiar with in Lincoln County — requires this type of illegal taking.

As County Commissioners, we are sworn to protect the public, economic and environmental health for our citizens, an obligation we place above all else. The Hecla purchase of the Troy, Rock Creek and Montanore Mines is the single most positive event in south Lincoln County since the Neils family established J. Neils Lumber Company in the early 1900s. Hecla has become significant community partners without turning a shovel. They have successfully operated on this continent and others for over one hundred years, and have never walked away from a single project nor environmental responsibility as a mine operator. They represent the most proven, experienced and responsible party this state could ask for to develop the Montanore and Rock Creek ore deposits. Protection of the environment is not a matter of compliance for Hecla, it is an organizational culture, all with Mr. Baker as CEO for over a decade.

The Rock Creek and Montanore projects are critical not only to Lincoln County’s socioeconomic wellbeing, but the metals produced are essential to every facet of our economy nationwide to include critical sectors such as healthcare. In addition, we know the company will develop these projects to the highest environmental standards.

We implore our Governor and DEQ to reconsider and withdraw this unwarranted action.

The Lincoln County commissioners are Jerry Bennett, Mike Cole and Mark Peck.

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