Change in Rock Creek Mine Ownership
Raises Serious Questions

Adding new sparks to the age-old debate about the feasibility of the proposed Rock Creek mine, Asarco sold the project last October, along with the defunct Troy mine, to Sterling Mining Company.  Sterling was formed specifically for the purpose of acquiring these mineral interests, but Asarco remains a major shareholder with a 20% stake in the new company.   

Sterling may be a new name in Montana, but the company's principals are anything but new to mining. Sterling executives have a history of attracting capital for risky mining ventures, declaring bankruptcy, and leaving the cost of an environmental catastrophe to taxpayers. The principals of this mining company include the likes of Tim Babcock, Frank Duval, Hobart Teneff, Gary Hebener, and  Raymond Hanson. Mr. Babcock, former Governor of Montana, has been a mining industry lobbyist and chief opponent of responsible mining in Montana for two decades. Mr. Duval and Mr. Teneff co-founded Pegasus  (Gold, owner and operator of the now bankrupt Zortman-Landusky (Z-L) Gold mines near Malta.   

Despite attempts by Sterling to convince local citizens in Montana and Idaho that Rock Creek will be different, the public isn't buying it. At recent town meetings held in Noxon and Sandpoint, locals were eager to question Sterling's principals about their involvement in other failed mining ventures and how they plan to protect public lands and water resources at Rock Creek. When asked by someone in the audience if Sterling could guarantee protection of the Clark Fork River, Frank Duvall said "only God Almighty could do that." The person in the audience said, "We'll take God Almighty." 

The enormous threat of pollution to waters on both sides of the border has raised hackles throughout the river corridor and continues to sustain an impassioned battle to protect water quality. The Clark Fork River has a long history of abuse by historic mining and other urban and industrial pollution, but the river is on the mend. Federal and state Superfund remediation efforts at Milltown Dam, a Voluntary Nutrient Reduction Program, and a ground-breaking relicensing agreement on the Noxon rapids and Cabinet Gorge dams to reconnect the historic migratory corridor for bull trout, are all coalescing into overall water quality improvement. In light of these efforts, the proposed Rock Creek mine, which would return 3 million gallons of polluted water to the lower river, every day, and leave a 100 million ton pile of tailings next to the river, just doesn't make any sense.  


While Sterling has been eager to convince the public that they will do things  right, they failed to pass the first real test. The Troy mine, which operated from 1982 to 1993 before closing prematurely due to low metals prices, is long overdue for a reclamation bond review (required every five years). The State of Montana has been mulling this over in recent months.  Since Pegasus Gold Corp. went bankrupt and left the state with millions of dollars in cleanup costs, Montana is taking a closer look at bonds. 

The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has determined that the current Troy bond amount of $2.7 million is inadequate. Instead, they propose raising the bond to $10 million. This figure represents the minimum dollar amount necessary to reclaim the site, based upon the current reclamation plan. Independent experts, who recommend a bond between $15-20 million, view the $10 million bond as a bare minimum in light of existing problems with non‑permitted discharges to ground and surface water and questions about the integrity of the tailings impoundment, among other things. But Sterling  Mining and Asarco object, contending it is unreasonable. Until Sterling posts an adequate bond, Asarco remains legally responsible for reclamation -- so much for a clean get-away. DEQ expects to release a decision on the bond any day.

If you would like to help protect water quality and wild lands along the Clark Fork River, contact the Bitterroot-Mission Group of  Sierra Club or the Rock Creek Alliance (406-543-2947).   Click Here to go to the Rock Creek Alliance's website or you can write them at: Rock Creek Alliance,114 West Pine Street, Missoula, MT 59802, (406) 543-29487, (Dori Giles)

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