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Associated Press

BUTTE (AP) - The president of Montana Resources says the mine does plan to reopen and isn't using its state of "indefinite suspension" as a cover to avoid reclamation costs.

The mine suspended operations three years ago, but Steve Walsh said he thinks the mine could start up again if copper prices rise from 74 cents a pound to 85 cents a pound.

At a Butte-Silver Bow Plan-ning Board meeting, Walsh was asked if the firm was simply promising the mine would reopen to avoid paying.

Walsh said mine owners are committed to reopening when the time is right and are continuing to meet all legal and financial obligations, he said.

Since suspension began July 1, 2000, the firm has spent $38 million on such things as taxes, reclamation work, Superfund requirements and maintaining a skeleton staff, Walsh said.

State law requires that reclamation take place within two years on land that won't be disturbed again. The company also carries a $26 million reclamation bond for future land work, as required by the state.

In 2002, the company spent about $1.1 million reclaiming 103 acres, Walsh said. Up through 2001, Montana Resources had reclaimed 154 acres.

Walsh said the rest of the land is in areas that would be disturbed if mining were to resume, and so it won't be reclaimed.

He said the mine still has 23 years of life, containing an estimated 2.3 billion more pounds of recoverable copper. The firm removed 1.3 billion pounds since the mine opened in 1986.

"Final reclamation will take place when there's no longer an economic resource in the ground that can be recovered at a profit," Walsh said.

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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