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Will feds “say yes” to Rock Creek Mine?

Approving a mine

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Kootenai National Forest Supervisor Bob Castenada suggested recently that the proposed Rock Creek Mine will be permitted within the next year, a prediction sure to raise the ire of citizens and conservation groups opposed to the mine, and perhaps that of higher-ranking Forest Service officials as well.

In a Sept. 27 article in the Sandpoint, Idaho, River Journal, one of Castenada’s remarks made the front cover: “We will say yes,” proclaimed the headline in bold print.

“We know the company has the right to mine that ore,” Castenada states in the article. “I can’t just flat say no. I can’t deny the permit.” River Journal reporter Dennis Nicholls paraphrased Castenada’s explanation of his position this way: “From [Castenada’s] point of view, the process of developing an Environmental Impact Statement hasn’t been about whether or not to issue a permit, but rather to identify under what conditions the plan can be approved. ... Once the answers to those conditions are affirmed, Castenada indicated it will be his duty to approve the plan of operations.”

Today Castenada describes the article as “accurate but incomplete.”

“I was getting a lot of email from all over the country, a lot of it in form letter format, 90 percent of it saying ‘deny the permit, deny the permit,’ and my response was in light of those emails,” he says.

Castenada does not deny the remarks, nor does he back away from his stance in further comments about the proposed mine. “I don’t feel I have the authority to deny the permit, and I don’t know that anyone in the Forest Service who would. My understanding is that we have to mitigate the effects of the mine, and make sure we’re not breaking other laws like the Clean Water Act or the Endangered Species Act.”

According to Rick Stern of the Rock Creek Alliance, Castenada’s interpretation of his duties shows that the Forest Service may have drawn a biased and premature conclusion in the permitting process. “It shows a predisposition to want to permit,” asserts Stern, “yet the analysis is not yet complete. Any mine proposal has to meet the law laid out in the Wilderness Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act, and we are still a long way from having all the information.”

Castenada nonetheless seemingly remains steadfast in his convictions. “We’ve been working with the EPA and the state of Idaho to mitigate the water quality concerns,” he says. “We’ve got some things we still need to work out, but if we can incorporate those, I don’t see any big hold-ups.”

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