We can see the light at the end of the tunnel

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In July of 2017, a group of citizens from Lincoln and Sanders County traveled to Washington, DC to meet with federal agencies and elected leaders and discuss the Montanore and Rock Creek mining projects.

Our request during our interface was simple: assure our communities that the projects would be prioritized, human resources would be adequate and in place, and analysis would be concluded in months rather than years.

We write today to let the communities of Sanders and Lincoln County know that the federal agencies are moving forward as promised. Ben Conard of the Fish and Wildlife has been keeping the communities abreast of that agencies actions with a much-appreciated monthly communication as his agency meets timelines in moving both projects forward. The USFS hired two geologists to work on the projects and is meeting their promised timelines. Kootenai Forest Supervisor Chris Savage has signed the record of decision to allow Phase One on Rock Creek to move forward. Work on the Montanore project is proceeding as hoped.

Sadly, but not unexpectedly, Earth Justice has served the USFS with a notice of their intention to sue over the Rock Creek Record of Decision. We are hopeful and confident that the work done by the agencies has been thorough and will be affirmed by the courts.

Also sadly — but unexpectedly — the State of Montana has raised an issue with Hecla that is perplexing to us. The State’s claim goes like this. The current Hecla CEO was once employed by a separate mining company (almost 25 years ago), that dissolved and turned their $45 million surety bond for cleanup over to the state. Despite the fact that the HECLA CEO left employment of the non-Hecla associate company long before these actions took place many year, the State of Montana feels this employment connection must now require Hecla to pay for the costs of the separate, defunct company’s cleanup before allowing the necessary permits for Montanore to proceed.

And yet, ironically, the Director of Montana DEQ has contributed opinion pieces shared in the media applauding the 127-year history of Hecla and their responsible corporate stewardship work done in Montana. This issue needs to be resolved quickly in the court of law, and we are asking the State to expedite the resolution.

In conclusion, those of us that went to Washington are very pleased with the work being done by the federal agencies, are optimistic that the State of Montana will resolve their issues quickly, and hopeful that the studies completed are upheld by the courts. But hope is not a strategy, and we continue to appeal to our agencies to maintain their commitments of progress. Our communities, our families, and our schools need these projects and after 30 years of analysis we can see light at the end of the tunnel.

Craig Barringer, superintendent of Libby Schools; Jerry Bennett, Lincoln County commissioner; Carol Brooker, Sanders County commissioner; Tina Oliphant, executive eirector at Kootenai River Development Council; Diane Rewerts, assistant principal at W.F. Morrison Elementary; Bruce Vincent, president at Environomics.

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