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Environmental Impact Statement should allay concerns about the Montanore Project

by The Western News
| October 13, 2011 1:16 PM

Editor’s note: With the anticipated and subsequent recent release of the Supplemental Draft of the Environmental Impact Statement, the Montanore Project by Mines Management Corp. has returned to the forefront. As with most business propositions so closely linked to the environment, there are those who oppose. Eric Klepfer, a contractor for Mines Management overseeing environmental permitting, has requested space from The Western News to address environmental concerns. Klepfer’s request was granted. It follows: 

I have been involved with the Montanore Project since Mines Management initiated efforts in late 2004 to allow the project to proceed.  During this time, we have spent considerable time, money and energy collecting important data, preparing plans, and hiring experts to assist Montanore Minerals Corporation in the important permitting process. 

Recently, there have been questions from the community and comments made with respect to specific details, plans, impacts, and other aspects of the project. 

The questions from the community are important and critical to the regulatory review process and promote dialogue so folks in and outside the community can ensure they have an informed opinion.  Sadly, there have been comments made by parties that disagree with the project that are factually incorrect or are taken completely out of context. 

We understand there will always be opponents to the concept of multiple use of public land and no matter how much information is provided, they will fundamentally disagree with responsible development of natural resources in virtually every location.  While some might think this is an admirable goal, I believe it is not a realistic view to expect as a society we can just say, “No” all the time.  We are all consumers of raw materials used in our everyday lives, and I believe we have a duty to provide those essential products in a responsible manner. 

We should not depend on other countries to provide for us that which we can provide by ourselves, but, hey, that’s just my view of the world.  Yes, we do believe in the First Amendment and everyone has the right to their opinion.  That’s my view, and I think it is a bit more pragmatic thinking that protects the environment and provides jobs and economic opportunities to communities like Libby.

I have worked in the mining industry for more years than I want to admit.  Like everyone else, I work hard with my employer and clients to meet the responsibility of being a good corporate citizen.  Are we all perfect?  Nope!  Can we do better?  There is always room for improvements.  We also believe it is important that everyone is well-informed so they can make up their own mind as to where and when responsible natural resource development should occur. 

Regardless of what the agencies decide, someone will be unhappy with their decision.  Whether you agree with the right to explore and develop minerals on public land is not really the question.  That is currently allowed by law. 

Since 2005, the agencies have been analyzing in great detail the proposed project and assessing effects the project may have on public lands.  They also evaluate how the project will be in compliance with all the applicable environmental laws and regulations.  The real question raised by the agencies is how the public feels about the document, the measure proposed, and the affects analyzed.

The Draft EIS and the Supplement Draft EIS provide a high level of science and expert analysis that goes into the regulatory agency review process.  Contrary to some comments made recently, neither Montanore Minerals Corp. nor Mines Management, Inc., generated the Draft EIS or the Supplement Draft EIS document which is currently available for public reviewing. 

We pay for the consultant, through a consulting reimbursement agreement with the Montana DEQ and USFS.  ERO is a third-party consultant tasked with assisting the agency’s resource specialists in the analysis and writing of the document for the USFS and MDEQ.  We have no control or management of those contractors or agency staff. 

The documents are thick because of the technical aspect of the issues and the thorough analysis that has been completed by the contractor and the agencies.  It was suggested that there are “thousands of pages of pseudo-science” to wade through.  The Supplemental Draft EIS does have approximately 557 pages of text, 225 tables, seven charts, 93 figures, and nine appendices.  It does demonstrate a level of detail and analysis completed by the agencies.  The agencies will use this information and the public input to make a reasoned decision that is what is required by law.

These documents are the best source for accurate information on the project.  There is a significant amount of information and data to absorb, and we can all make mistakes in recalling information for various reasons.  I thought it might be helpful to extract some information from the Supplement Draft EIS and the Draft EIS that may help to address recent questions and comments made by the community. 

The Montanore Project is projected to employ up to 450 people and is dependent on the final production rate obtained.  Annual payroll for the projected full production period will be approximately $12 million dollars per year.  The project, as analyzed under Alternative 3 by the agencies, would disturb approximately 1,539 acres of public and private land.  The majority of which is associated with the tailings impoundment facility. 

The construction period, including the evaluation effort, is projected to last approximately three years with operations following.  If the project is approved in 2012, efforts could commence in 2012 with full production commencing in 2015.  During this three-year period, we would spend more than $500 million developing the project.  The Hard Rock Impact Plan, a state-required study, reported local purchases by the mine starting in Year One are expected to be about $6 million and expanding to more than $27 million per year by Year Five.

The project proposes to use the latest mining technology and equipment that provides an efficient and safe working condition for employees.  The geologic setting for the Montanore Project is very different from that which has generated so many unfortunate asbestos health issues in Libby.  The rock material associated with asbestosis is not present at the Montanore Project. However, tests have been completed on representative rock samples to verify that assertion.  Furthermore, monitoring plans are proposed to ensure a healthy work environment exists; one plan specific to the asbestos issue. 

Water inflow to the mine void has been predicted by developing a computer model prepared by an expert hydrologist.  These are valuable tools used by the agencies to understand affects and possible mitigation opportunities that may be appropriate to minimize effects.  The project is anticipated to use the mine water for processing and additional water may be required from other sources. 

The water balance developed suggests that only a small amount of water will be discharged and likely only seasonally to protect the Libby Creek fisheries.  When water is discharged, the agencies have assessed the potential water quality and treatment technologies that will ensure compliance with all the applicable water quality standards for the project.  An extensive scientific review has gone into stream flows, water-quality issues, and other important resource issues.

Significant biological information and review has gone into the wildlife sections of the document.  In particular, heavy emphasis has been placed on the grizzly bear issue.  This community fully understands the grizzly bear issues and the effect it can have on public land action. 

We are supportive of a pro-active collaborative approach to understanding grizzly bear conditions, including financially supporting the important USGS hair snag study that is currently under way in the Cabinet Yaak Ecosystem even though it will not influence any aspect of the project process or decisions made.

The Supplemental Draft EIS and the Draft EIS explain the affects created from the project, the measures that will be implemented to reduce affects, and the monitoring effort that will be required to ensure all measures employed are working effectively.  Ultimately, a financial guarantee will be placed prior to commencing operations.  This bond will ensure sufficient money is available to complete reclamation of the project.

I have only scraped the surface on the information that is available.  These documents are your best source for project information.  Don’t take my word or others. See for yourself.  Have an informed position. 

We encourage everyone to participate in the public-comment process.  This is your opportunity to participate and provide input to the agencies on their extensive scientifically based assessment of the project on our public lands.  Libby can have jobs, a healthy environment, a diverse economy, and multiple use of public lands … if we so desire!