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Hecla officials promote reclamation efforts at Troy mine site

by WILL LANGHORNE
The Western News | April 27, 2021 7:00 AM

In celebration of Earth Day, officials with Hecla Mining Co. last week touted their reclamation efforts at the Troy Mine.

Bruce Vincent of Montana-based Environomics praised restoration of the former mine site as a modern-era post-mining operation. Since the first Earth Day in 1970, Vincent said the industry has made significant strides in improving cleanup operations.

“I think it’s important for society to understand that since Earth Day No. 1, there has been a lot of progress made, including this kind of look at what we are going to leave our trail like,” he said.

For a glimpse at pre-modern mining, recreationists don’t have to go further than the Cabinet Mountains, where the remnants of early 20th century mines remain visible. Vincent said that within half a century a hiker passing through the former Troy Mine site likely would fail to realize the area ever housed mining operations.

Hecla’s recent reclamation of the mine’s tailing storage facility marks a significant step towards this goal, according to Nick Raines, environmental coordinator for Hecla.

Raines said that thanks to the local geology, the tailings, or waste materials produced at the former mine, are made primarily of harmless powdered quartz or sand. Following a plan developed by Montana Department of Environmental Quality, the company placed over 500,000 cubic yards of soil and seeded over 350 acres of the site since 2017. A partnership with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes provided Hecla with more than 200,000 seedlings.

“We’ve been watching it over the last three or four years as we’ve progressed with reclamation and we’re really starting to see that area come to life,” Raines said.

The work led to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality releasing a third — or nearly $8 million — of the reclamation bond they hold on the site last year.

Within the coming weeks, Hecla will begin the formal reclamation of the former mill site. Raines said that by the end of the year the company hopes to have demolished all of the buildings at the facility. Next year, Hecla plans to begin grading, placing cover soil and vegetating the area.

Hecla recently saw a setback in its push to open Rock Creek Mine near Noxon. The Associated Press reported that on April 14 U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy reversed government approval for the initial stage of the mine’s construction. Molloy's ruling affirmed that an environmental review conducted by federal officials for the proposed copper and silver mine applied only to exploration work and not full-scale operations.

Opponents worry the mine, which would tunnel beneath the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, could sap groundwater reserves and impair the habitat of federally-protected bull trout and grizzly bears.

Neither Vincent nor Raines could comment on the details of the ruling.

Hecla Vice President Luke Russell told the Associated Press that the company was reviewing the case. Hecla had not decided if it would appeal immediately after Molloy issued his ruling.

“We were disappointed and surprised,” Russell told the Associated Press.

The Troy Mine closed in 2015 after more than 30 years in operation. In its most productive years between 2004 and 2012, the mine produced more than eight million ounces of silver and 70 million pounds of copper. Revett Mining Company, the previous owner of the mine, employed nearly 200 people at its peak.