Molloy issues Rock Creek Mine opinion

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In late March, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy of Missoula rebuffed the U.S. Forest Service's approval of the Rock Creek Mine in the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness southwest of Libby. On Tuesday, Molloy filed his full, 124-page opinion (PDF) in the case.

Here's a summary of why Molloy rescinded the Forest Service's 2001 Final EIS and 2003 Record of Decision, according a press release (PDF) from a few of the plaintiffs:

The court agreed with the conservation group plaintiffs and held that the agency failed to “minimize the adverse environmental impacts” from the Mine and failed to “take all practicable measures to maintain and protect fisheries habitat.” The court also held that the agency violated NEPA by approving the Mine despite admitting that vital information regarding the Mine’s impacts to bull trout was inadequate. On both counts, the court held that the Forest Service’s approval of the Mine was “arbitrary and capricious” and must be rescinded.

And on what the plaintiffs—among them the Rock Creek Alliance, Clark Fork Coalition, Cabinet Resource Group, Montana Wilderness Association, Earthworks and Alliance for the Wild Rockies—contend the impacts of the Rock Creek Mine would be:

If constructed, the mine would remove 10,000 tons per day of copper and silver ore from beneath the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness seven days a week for 35 years. In addition to the hundreds of tons of sediment discharged from the Mine into critical fish habitat, the Mine would transform Rock Creek and the lower Clark Fork River Valley into an industrial zone, destroying habitat for both threatened bull trout and grizzly bear. ...

The proposed Mine would leave behind a 100 million-ton, unlined tailings pile adjacent to the Clark Fork River, and would generate up to three million gallons of waste water per day to be discharged to the river, in perpetuity. The discharge of polluted water would be destined for Idaho’s Lake Pend Oreille, located 25 miles downstream from the proposed mine. Recent decisions from a Montana district court and the Montana Supreme Court found that the Mine’s permitted discharges violate Montana water quality laws, resulting in the revocation of two key waste water discharge permits.

When Molloy's ruling came down in March, mining company officials, as the Missoulian's Michael Jamison reported, vowed to "hang in there."

"We always knew this was going to be a long and involved process," said John Shanahan, president of Revett Minerals. "It's definitely a setback, but for now, we remain optimistic."

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