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DEQ, FS say mine app incomplete

| April 20, 2005 12:00 AM

The two agencies that must approve permits for the Montanore Mine have found an application and proposed operating plan to be incomplete.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Forest Service, in a joint letter last month, told Mines Management Inc. officials that new information is required to validate a previously approved permit.

Noranda Minerals Corp. earlier held rights to the Montanore project, and received needed permits in 1992. The company abandoned Montanore in 2002, at which time Spokane-based Mines Management acquired the property rights.

Mines Management, seeking fast-track approval, now has run into a delay in getting the green light.

"The agencies disagree with MMI that the baseline data for the 1992 decision would support this type of decision in 2005," DEQ permit section supervisor Patrick Plantenberg wrote in his letter to Mines Management.

"There have been changes since then in state law, the Kootenai National Forest Plan, demographic, area socioeconomic, the list of threatened, endangered and sensitive species, potential cumulative impacts of mineral development in the area, etc."

Plantenberg said baseline data from Mines Management "clearly need to be updated or supplemented." The company must do more analyzing of water treatment, paste tailings and backfill, the design of the creek diversion and under-drain in the impoundment area, Plantenberg wrote.

Mines Management officials were not available for comment Monday, nor were spokesmen from DEQ or the U.S. Forest Service.

In its 60-page "deficiency review" of Mines Management's operating permit application, the DEQ notes several questions that have not been addressed.

Among those are how much waste rock would be generated and where it would be placed. Also, the application does not include a conceptual plan for the ventilation raise in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness.

In one part of the application, Plantenberg wrote, MMI indicates the raise will be in the East Fork Rock Creek drainage. But another section states that, if built, the raise would be on private land.

The DEQ supervisor also is requiring more study of the impact to grizzly bears.

"New standards are in place for grizzly bear management," Plantenberg said. "Please provide the new analysis."

Several old growth stands totaling about 400 acres in an area affected by mine operations also need to be surveyed. The application does not include all the tree species that exist in the area, as is required.

An updated wildlife mitigation plan also is needed.

"There are new threatened, endangered, and sensitive species that need to be inventoried and conservation strategies developed for the analysis," according to the letter.

A biological assessment for bull trout must be prepared by Kootenai National Forest staff, Plantenberg wrote.

Plantenberg directed MMI to "investigate and discuss" any potential for asbestiform minerals in the Montanore project rocks. If asbestiform minerals are found, he said, a management plan must be developed.

Plantenberg added, "No impacts to wilderness waters are allowed. Please propose a plan to prevent impacts to wilderness waters."

He referred MMI officials to inconsistencies in their application.

"The text states that the under-drains would reduce seepage into the base soils by 40 to 80 percent. On page six, the text states that the drains would potentially reduce seepage losses by 50 percent.

"Which values have you used in your calculations?"