BILLS, Mont. (AP) — State environmental officials unlawfully permitted a large copper mine in central Montana despite fears mining waste would pollute a river popular with boaters, a state judge ruled.
Officials with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality failed to conduct an adequate review of the proposed Black Butte mine north of White Sulfur Springs, Meagher County Judge Katherine Bidegaray said in Friday’s decision.
Work at the mine along a tributary of the Smith River, a waterway so popular with boaters that the state holds an annual lottery to decide who gets to swim on it, began last year.
The underground mine, sponsored by Vancouver-based Sandfire Resources, is located on private land and would produce 15.3 million tonnes of copper-bearing rock and waste over a 15-year period – approximately 440 tonnes per day.
Environmentalists had complained about possible pollution from the mine and asked Bidigary to reconsider the permit.
Bidigaray’s ruling allows this approval to stand for the time being. She urged the two sides in the case to file legal briefs within 45 days to clarify what should happen next.
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