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Troy Mine responds to spill into waterways

by Canda HarbaughWestern News
| October 6, 2009 12:00 AM

Troy Mine continued Monday to clean up a tailings spill that leaked into nearby waterways, but is so far not considered detrimental to the environment.

“Initially, no, it doesn’t look serious, but we do need to run some analyses on it,” said Paul Stantus, technical services staff officer for the U.S. Forest Service. “… We don’t know whether or not there are long-term effects.”

A Montana Department of Environmental Quality staffer and Forest Service biologists and hydrologists conducted site visits last week after Troy Mine reported a tailings pipe leaked 16,000 gallons of water and sand, some of which entered Thicket Creek, which flowed into Stanley Creek, and then Lake Creek, Stantus said.

The crushed quartzite mixture is similar to beach sand, according to Warren McCullough of the DEQ, but may contain trace amounts of other materials such as copper and silver.

“A couple beaver dams caught most of the material (in Thicket Creek),” Stantus said. “That’s where they (Troy Mine) are concentrating their cleanup efforts using a pumper truck that’s sucking a lot of this sand from the bottom of the creek.”

Stantus said that only a minor amount flowed into Stanley Creek and even less into Lake Creek – a relief for the bull trout population, which is preparing to spawn or is in the process of spawning in Lake Creek.

“In Lake Creek, there’s not much (tailings material) at all,” Stantus said, “but it did discolor the water when it first went down the creek.”

An estimated 40 tons of solid material leaked from the tailings pipe late Wednesday night, according to Carson Rife, vice president of operations of Troy Mine’s parent company, Revett Minerals. Rife estimated that mine workers detected the half- to one-inch diameter leak in the eight-inch pressurized steel pipe about an hour after it occurred.

The mine was temporarily shut down and local and state regulators were informed. Though the line will be out of service until the ruptured pipe is repaired, Rife said Friday that production wouldn’t be impacted because another line could handle the load.

When the mine reopened in 2004, Revett visually inspected the pipes by running remote cameras through them and also sent about 20 sections back to the manufacturer for testing, Rife said. There have been a few tailings pipe leaks since then, he admitted, but none occurred near a waterway.

Sandpoint-based Rock Creek Alliance reacted to Wednesday’s incident as an example of why the group is fighting against the proposed Rock Creek mine, another Revett project.

“They keep saying what a great job they do at Troy and that’s what a great job they’ll do at Rock Creek,” said Jim Costello, Montana coordinator for Rock Creek Alliance. “Well, the facts speak for themselves.”

The proposed copper and silver mine is located near Noxon and would tunnel under private land and 148 acres of U.S. Forest Service land on the edge of the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness.

(Keith Kinnaird of the Bonner County Daily Bee in Sandpoint, Idaho, contributed to this story).