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Libby Middle School student Konnor Basso paints the set for "The Jungle Book Kids."

| January 18, 2007 11:00 PM

Mining company gets go-ahead for exploration

By GWEN ALBERS Western News Reporter

A fourth-generation Idaho mining and lumber operation has received permission from the U.S. Forest Service to explore hard-rock mineral mining on the Kootenai National Forest.

Libby Creek Ventures in Spirit Lake, founded by John W. Bakie in the 1940s, needs permits from Montana Department of Environmental Quality before beginning exploration in the area close to the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness.

"DEQ is very amicable," said Frank Wall, engineer for Libby Creek Ventures, and president and chief operating officer for ECO Star Energy Systems in Athol, Idaho. "We're going to go to Helena and I'm (going to get the permit)."

The area Libby Creek Ventures hopes to mine is near the Montanore Mine. Mines Management in Spokane late last year received a permit from DEQ to continue exploring the copper and silver mine south of Libby in a $400 million attempt to reopen it.

Eric Klepfer, vice-president of operations for Mines Management, said plans by Libby Creek Ventures will not affect his company's efforts.

"The drilling would have no effect," Klepfer said. "They can develop their sites and it wouldn't influence anything we're doing and vice-versa. I wish them luck."

Mines Management, which eventually could employ 250 to 300 at $40,000 to $50,000 annually, hopes to begin construction in 2008. Some 500 construction workers will be needed. Permanent employees would operate the mine for an expected 15 to 20 years.

Mines Management in August 2002 began the process of re-permitting the Montanore Mine near Forest Service Road 278 off Bear Creek Road.

The company in May 2006 acquired Noranda Finance Inc., including Noranda Minerals Corp. and Normin Resources Corp. Noranda shut down the fully permitted mine in 1994 before beginning operations due to low metal prices.

As for Libby Creek Ventures, Wall couldn't say when exploration might begin or how many jobs might be created.

Pete Strazdas, an exploration supervisor with DEQ in Helena, said Libby Creek Ventures has applied for the permit.

"We don't have a complete plan at this time," Strazdas said. "We have communicated a request for additional information. That would've been in November, but haven't received it."

Libby Creek Ventures plans to drill as much as 1,200 feet in above Libby Creek. It will follow by core drilling of as much as 20 times that along and above the Libby and Ramsey Creek drainage areas southwest of Libby.

"Our overall business plan involves primary targets and is expected to approach over 55,000 feet of diamond core drilling in the near term of two to five years," Wall said.

Libby Creek Ventures hopes to set the standard for other mining operators in the Kootenai National Forest.

"In this era of limited metal commodities availability and strong global demand, and especially emerging economic force dynamics of supply and demand, the U.S. mineral mining industry overall has languished," said Walter Lindsey, vice-president. "Our focus is to mine for strategic metals such as copper and silver, and to help protect environmental objectives or goals, and nurture our extraordinary national resources."