Cabinet Mountains Wilderness
United States | Montana-Idaho | Sandpoint : Rock Creek Mine
The Rock Creek Mine Proposal
Mining company Revett Silver is proposing to develop an enormous copper/silver mine beneath the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness in Kootenai National Forest of western Montana -- one of the original ten areas protected by Congress under the Wilderness Act of 1964.
Despite the fact that the mine would tunnel beneath a wilderness area in the United States, the Forest Service claims that the General Mining Law of 1872 leaves them no choice but to permit the mine.
Ore would be extracted by hollowing out giant underground rooms, leaving overlying wilderness lands held up by rock pillars.
"There hasn't been a single hard rock mine in America developed, operated and reclaimed with the perfection needed to prevent the Rock Creek mine from fouling the Clark Fork River, threatening Lake Pend Oreille, and degrading the entire Congressionally designated wilderness area."
--- Montana Missoulian editorial
The company plans to discharge up to 3 million gallons of wastewater per day containing heavy metals and nutrient pollution into the lower Clark Fork River. Revett also plans to use unproven technology to store the 100-million-tons of toxic mining waste (tailings), which it would leave permanently in an unlined pile covering 346 acres just 1/4 mile from the Clark Fork River.
If it is approved, the Rock Creek Mine would:
- jeopardize the Cabinet Yaak grizzly bear population by destroying important habitat,
- negatively impact populations of threatened native Bull Trout,
- leak arsenic from the unlined tailings impoundment into groundwater destined for the Clark Fork River
- discharge polluted water for decades or centuries after the mine closes; the State of Montana says the pollution could continue forever.
- create a high risk of draining or contaminating overlying wilderness lakes.
"The community of Sandpoint has been consistently opposed to this mine, yet the federal government says its hands are tied by a law that predates Idaho Statehood. It's just not right that our concerns about our community's future don't hold any weight."
-- Loren Albright, local contractor and Sandpoint native
The mine is widely opposed by neighboring communities. The Bonner County Commission and the City of Sandpoint have passed formal resolutions in opposition to the mine. Public officials, businesses and residents of the area have repeatedly advocated for reform of the 1872 Mining Law. Some 60 Idaho panhandle businesses, as well as county commissioners and city council members, oppose the mine.
Location of Rock Creek and Montanore proposals in Montana's Cabinet Mountains Wilderness. Click to view a larger map
Taking action to protect Montana's water, wildlife and wilderness
Earthworks, the Rock Creek Alliance, and other groups have successfully challenged the permit for this mine in court. On May 5, 2010, the federal court tossed out the mine permit, saying it fails to minimize impacts to water quality and fisheries. This is the third time that the court has ruled against this project. The mine must now go back to the drawing board to develop a revised plan, which is expected in Spring 2015.
On October, 2012, the Montana Supreme Court voided a key water quality permit for the proposed Rock Creek Mine, holding that the state’s use of a permitting shortcut would not sufficiently protect Rock Creek’s threatened bull trout population, a resource of “unique ecological significance” under state law.
On March 17, 2015, Earthworks petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to use its authority under the Endangered Species Act take a new look at the harmful effects that the project would inflict on imperiled bull trout and grizzly bears.
With your support, we will continue our efforts to protect this important ecosystem.
For more information:
- Ann Maest, Buka Environmental: Myths about the Rock Creek Project. Fact sheet.
- Clark Fork Coalition, Earthworks, Rock Creek Alliance: Facts about the Rock Creek mine. Fact Sheet
- Earthworks: 1872 Mining Law
- Kootenai National Forest: Cabinet Mountains Wilderness
- Kootenai National Forest: Rock Mine Proposal
- Rock Creek Alliance