For immediate release: June 10, 2008
Four conservation groups filed suit Monday to protect a critical native fishery from impacts associated with the proposed Rock Creek Mine, a controversial copper and silver mine at the edge of the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness in the lower Clark Fork River watershed near Idaho.
The suit, filed in state district court by the Rock Creek Alliance, the Clark Fork Coalition, Earthworks, and Trout Unlimited, alleges that the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and mine owner Revett Minerals, Inc. are permitting the mine in a way that violates state water quality laws, harms a key fishery, and shuts the public out of the permitting process.
The suit focuses on the large amount of sediment the mine is expected to discharge to Rock Creek, a lower Clark Fork tributary that supports a small but crucial population of bull trout, a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. State water quality law prohibits anyone from discharging sediment into state waters at levels that will harm fisheries.
“Every state and federal agency to look at the situation agrees that Rock Creek already has all the sediment pollution its native fish can stand”, said Karen Knudsen, executive director of the Clark Fork Coalition. “They've said the addition of any more sediment will harm the fishery. We don't see how those same agencies can give the green light to a huge project that will increase sediment levels in the creek for at least 5 to 7 years. It just doesn't make sense.”
DEQ and Revett have said they plan to permit the mine construction under a provision of state law known as a general permit, which allows common types of projects such as highway construction to proceed without obtaining a site-specific water quality permit from the state, and without the public involvement that goes along with such a permit. The groups say the general permit was never intended to apply to situations such as the Rock Creek Mine.
” The general permitting laws say in black and white that they don't apply to situations where unique ecological resources are at stake”, said Loren Albright, member of the Board of Trustees of Trout Unlimited. “If Rock Creek doesn't meet that definition, I don't know what does. It's deeply disappointing that the state sees this project as garden-variety construction with no need for public involvement. “
Revett has indicated it wants to begin construction of the first phase of the mine this summer. Last week, it began building a small office building and water treatment facility on nearby private land outside the Rock Creek watershed. If Revett seeks to go forward with actual mine construction, the groups say they will consider seeking an injunction to stop it.
The proposed mine is widely opposed by a diverse group of businesses and conservation and sporting organizations in the region concerned about the long-term impacts to important water resources and the area's quality of life.