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Guest opinion: Look at Hecla's 'good neighbor' record

Guest opinion: Look at Hecla's 'good neighbor' record

In June 2015, Hecla purchased Revett Mining, including the Troy Mine and the proposed Rock Creek Mine. Hecla immediately began preparations to reclaim mothballed Troy Mine, as required by Montana mining law.

Hecla began the reclamation in the spring of 2017. The work includes capping and revegetating the tailings impoundment, filling mine portals, maintaining water treatment, demolishing buildings, and grinding up paved roads. “The Troy Mine gives us an opportunity to show the community what modern mine reclamation can be,” said Luke Russell, Hecla’s vice president of external affairs.

On July 31, 2018, Hecla put much of the Troy reclamation work on hold. Montana’s Dept. of Environmental Quality had enforced the Bad Actor Law against Hecla’s CEO Phillips Baker Jr.

The bad actor law refers only to past polluters who can’t mine in Montana until they clean up the messes they left in our state. In Hecla’s case, Baker is the past polluter. As CFO of Pegasus Gold, Baker’s company introduced open-pit cyanide heap-leach gold mining. Then they declared bankruptcy, leaving toxic mining wastes and permanently poisoned creeks across Montana.

The public has paid over $43 million to date for Pegasus’ cleaning bill — and will continue to pay an estimated $2.3 million per year in perpetuity to treat the water contaminated by Baker’s former company. As CEO of Hecla, Baker seeks permits to mine copper and silver deposits beneath the Cabinet Mountains.

When DEQ learned of the Hecla-Baker connection to the Pegasus fiasco, DEQ denied those permits. Until the Pegasus messes are cleaned up, and taxpayers are made whole, or Baker is not involved. DEQ put Hecla on notice in March 2018.

Hecla reacted with a shutdown of Troy Mine cleanup actions, then sued DEQ for doing their job.

Is Hecla a good neighbor?

When Grouse Creek Mine in Idaho began operating in 1994, Hecla boasted of a zero-discharge tailings impoundment with no significant environmental impacts. Less than a year later, the tailings impoundment failed, leaking nearly 10,000 gallons of cyanide-bearing tailings into area waters, including habitat for endangered salmon, steelhead and bull trout.

In 1996, another spill, this time 16,000 gallons of cyanide-laced water. Hecla shut down the unprofitable mine in 1997, but the problems continued. In 1999, the EPA and the Forest Service stepped in and ordered Hecla to take emergency measures to prevent a catastrophic release of cyanide, mercury, and heavy metals from the failed impoundment.

This was not an isolated event:

• In 2011, at the Bunker Hill Superfund Site in Idaho, Hecla paid a $263 million settlement related to its liability for massive environmental contamination from lead and arsenic-laced mine tailings; liability it had disputed for 15 years in court.

• In 2015, Hecla was fined $600,000 for multiple violations at its Lucky Friday mine, including seepage of metal-laden water from the tailings pond into a nearby tributary.

Corporate shell games do not fool Montanans, not after more than a century of experience with mining companies promising the moon and delivering dust. Those experiences inspired our sensible laws to protect the land and water that underpin our $7 billion outdoor recreation industry. Money that stays here in Montana, supporting our families, communities, and treasured places.

The label, “bad actor,” is an admonition, a warning to literally “clean up your act” to do business in our treasured state.

Message to Hecla before you become my neighbor: If you want to mine in our state, under our precious wilderness creeks and streams, respect our laws that reflect hard lessons learned and put the environment and people ahead of corporate profits.

Martha D. Humphreys lives in Noxon.


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