Little more than a week after Revett Minerals announced it has begun preliminary work at its Rock Creek exploration and evaluation stage property in northwest Montana, four environmental groups filed suit Monday seeking an injunction to stop any construction activities at the copper and silver project.
On March 10 conservation groups filed suit in a federal court, challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's approval of the Rock Creek Mine.
Spokane, Washington-based Revett Minerals is proposing a copper and silver mine to be located 13 miles northeast of the small town of Noxon in northwest Montana. The project would have a 20-year mine life and is planned to produce 6 million ounces of silver and 52 million pounds of copper annually.
The common issue raised in both NGO-based legal actions is protection of fisheries, specifically the bull trout, which is protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The federal lawsuit filed previously also claimed that the proposed silver mine would threaten another endangered species, the grizzly bear. However, Revett Minerals responded with additional partial funding to jump start improving the status of grizzly bear in the Cabinet Yaak Ecosystem.
In the Monday complaint, the Clark Fork Coalition, Earthworks, Trout Unlimited and the Rock Creek Alliance sought a declaration from a Montana state court that the proposed construction activities are not allowed without obtaining a permit under the Montana Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (MPDES). The plaintiffs also sought an injunction prevent Revett from commencing construction unless it obtains the permit and complies with Montana's public participation laws and statutory nondegradation policy.
The NGOs contend that most of the mine facilities including roads to the project are located in the Rock Creek drainage, which originates in the Cabinet Mountains and flows into the Clark Fork River near the proposed mine. Rock Creek provides crucial habitat for bull trout, cutthroat trout, harlequin duck and other aquatic species, their complaint asserted.
The groups also noted that the state of Montana and the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) have designated several segments of Rock Creek as critical habitat essential to the recovery of the bull trout. Construction of the Rock Creek project is expected to discharge large amount of sediment into Rock Creek. Much of this sediment will be generated by the reconstruction and widening of the road to the adit site, and the associated vehicle traffic, they contend.
Revett plans a dual water treatment at Rock Creek. A federal court is already reviewing an updated biological opinion by the USFWS, which specifically addresses fisheries in the Rock Creek drainage system.
The four NGOs also argue that public participation laws were violated when the Montana Department of Environmental Quality decided to issue Revett short-term water quality standards for turbidity related to the construction of a proposed exploration edit and support facilities at the project, effective from March 17, 2008 to March 18, 2009. Revett and its predecessors have tried to permit the Rock Creek project for nearly two decades.
The plaintiffs are also seeking an order permanently enjoining Revett from undertaking any ground- disturbing activities associated with the mine until such time as it has complied with all applicable provisions of the Montana Water Quality Act, including the MPDES program and Montana's non-degradation policy.