Alliance in Action
Despite longstanding opposition, the Rock Creek Mine is closer to being permitted than at any time in its history.
In December 2007, the Forest Service issued a Letter of Determination approving the Exploration Adit/Phase 1 of the mine. Following significant modifications of the exploration plan proposed originally by Revett Minerals, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) released an Environmental Assessment (EA) in July 2008 to address these changes. Although many of the modifications would result in impacts to ground and surface water, and potentially to domestic wells, MDEQ approved the modified plan.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) also signed off on the mine’s grizzly bear mitigation plan even though the mine would render as unsuitable over 7,000 acres of the bears’ already limited habitat. USFWS also concluded that for the mine to be permitted, it would be necessary to sacrifice Rock Creek’s bull trout population that they claim is not critical to the overall survival of the species. The mismanagement by the USFWS of both the threatened grizzly bear and bull trout violates the protections afforded under the Endangered Species Act.
However, due to our litigation, no mine-related activity–including the exploration adit/Phase 1 construction–can currently take place on public land. We continue to inform area citizens of the perils posed by the Rock Creek Mine project. Most importantly, we’re asking why our government-appointed officials would support a questionable mine plan with such a fragile ecosystem at risk.
Water Quality Suit
If permitted, the Rock Creek Mine could be disastrous for bull trout habitat in the lower Clark Fork River drainage, as well as for Lake Pend Oreille. It will also impact the region’s groundwater aquifer. As evidence, look no further than the mine’s construction plan, which proposed to dump tons of sediment into Rock Creek. Rock Creek Alliance and a coalition of like-minded groups challenged the agencies’ approval of the plan in court.
About the Suit
Bull trout require clean, clear, cold water to spawn and thrive. During the 5 – 7 year construction phase of the project, the Rock Creek Mine would introduce 400 – 1,400 tons of additional sediment per year to a stream already impaired by sediment. This significant impact to the habitat of a threatened species should have required a more detailed waste water discharge permit (individual MPDES permit) from MDEQ. The state instead opted to issue a broader general permit without the limits and protections of an individual MPDES permit. A general MPDES permit was not applicable because of the impacts, location, type, and volume of the discharge.
This case requested that MDEQ require an individual MPDES permit for the discharge, and the Montana State District Court, Lewis and Clark County, Helena, Montana agreed, thereby requiring MDEQ to reanalyze the discharge for issuance under an individual permit.
Review the Suit
Endangered Species Suit
If permitted, the Rock Creek Mine will impact our country’s most endangered wildlife. The mine jeopardizes one of the last remaining grizzly bear populations in the lower 48 states, and all but destroys significant bull trout spawning habitat at a time when companies and government agencies are spending millions to protect the threatened fish. By suing the USFWS, we intend to get the agency to reconsider approval of the mine’s mitigation plan.
About the Suit
This suit looks at the irreparable harm the mine would cause to threatened bull trout and grizzly bear, thus violating the Endangered Species Act (ESA). It asks the Court to overturn the Biological Opinion until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) complies with the ESA.
The Rock Creek Mine will destroy or adversely modify bull trout critical habitat by increasing sediment in the main stem of Rock Creek by 38% and in the west fork of Rock Creek by 46% from construction and road building activities. The sediment would negatively affect all life stages of bull trout by impacting feeding, spawning, and sheltering activities. The USFWS dismisses the significance of maintaining bull trout in Rock Creek and the impact such a loss would have on overall recovery efforts for bull trout in the Columbia Basin.
The mine would displace grizzly bears from over 7,000 acres of habitat, impacting 40% of the breeding females in the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem and leading to the possible death of one or two adult females. It also would sever important travel corridors. Currently, the population is estimated to be between 30 and 35 bears. To counter the effects of the mine, the USFWS is relying on a faulty mitigation plan entailing the future acquisition of just over 2,000 acres of replacement habitat. If the habitat is even available and is suitable, it is likely already occupied by grizzly bears.
Motions for Summary Judgment were filed in the spring of 2008. A court hearing has not yet been scheduled.
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The Endangered Species Suit
Public Lands Suit
Much of the land impacted by the Rock Creek Mine falls under the jurisdiction of the US Forest Service. Its approval of the Rock Creek mine violates federal laws enacted to protect public lands, water, and wildlife.
About the Suit
This suit charges the agency with violation of several federal acts including, but not limited to, the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, National Forest Management Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). At issue is impairment of water quality by the introduction of sediment that is injurious to fish and the agency’s failure to maintain and protect fisheries and wildlife habitat. By law, the Forest Service must ensure that its actions do not jeopardize a listed species or destroy its habitat. Furthermore, the agency is bound to conduct an adequate analysis of the impacts of the project, develop courses of action that evaluate all reasonable alternatives and are based on sufficient information, adequately review all mitigation measures, and fully disclose all impacts for public review. The Forest Service has failed in all areas of its duties. This suit asks the court to permanently enjoin the Rock Creek project until it complies with all federal laws.
Motions for Summary Judgment were filed in the spring of 2008. A court hearing has not yet been scheduled. This suit and the suit challenging approval by the USFWS have been combined and will be jointly considered by the court.
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The Public Lands Suit