U.S. Forest Service Releases Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the Rock Creek Project, Noxon, MT

Contact(s): Willie Sykes

LIBBY, MT February 19, 2016 -- The Kootenai National Forest (KNF) has issued its Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (Draft SEIS) for the Rock Creek Project. The Rock Creek Project is a proposed underground copper and silver mine located in northwestern Montana near Noxon in Sanders County. RC Resources (RCR) (a subsidiary of Hecla Mining Company) proposes to construct, operate, and reclaim the proposed Rock Creek Mine which has a mine life of 33 to 38 years. RCR currently holds mineral rights for the Rock Creek ore deposit beneath and adjacent to the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness (CMW) on the Cabinet Ranger District.

The KNF and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality prepared a Final EIS for the Rock Creek Project in 2001 (2001 FEIS). The KNF has prepared this Draft SEIS in response to a March 29, 2010, U.S. District Court decision in Rock Creek Alliance et al. v. USFS, Revett Silver Company, and USFWS (CV 05–107–M–DWM and CV 08–028–M–DWM consolidated). In the case, the U.S. District Court found deficiencies in the 2001 Rock Creek Project Final EIS and directed an SEIS and new Record of Decision (ROD) be prepared. The deficiencies found by the U.S. District Court are that the Final EIS: 1) failed to clearly require the implementation of sediment source reduction measures during Phase I of the project; 2) did not consider supplemental information about bull trout populations and habitat in a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) document; and 3) did not clearly show effects on Riparian Habitat Conservation Areas. In addition, to ensure a complete analysis of the proposed mining project, the SEIS will update other resource analyses if there are significant new circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns and directly related to the proposed action or its impacts.

The KNF’s overall purpose and need is to process RCR’s proposed Plan of Operations and to follow all applicable laws, regulations, and policies pertaining to the processing of the proposal. The role of the KNF under its primary authorities in the Organic Administration Act, Locatable Minerals Regulations 36 CFR 228 Subpart A, and the Multiple Use Mining Act is to ensure that mining activities minimize adverse environmental effects on National Forest Service lands and comply with all applicable environmental laws. The KNF has no authority to unreasonably restrict or prohibit reasonably necessary activities under the General Mining Law that are otherwise lawful. KNF will use the analysis in the Draft SEIS to determine whether to issue approvals necessary for construction and operation of the Rock Creek Project.

According to 40 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 1502.9(c)(1)(ii), a supplemental EIS shall be prepared if: (i) the agency makes substantial changes in the proposed action that are relevant to environmental concerns; or (ii) there are significant new circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns and bearing on the proposed action or its impacts. The Draft SEIS addresses the deficiencies found by the court and updates other resource analyses where the Forest Service identified significant new circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns and bearing on the proposed action or its impacts. For the Draft SEIS, the analyses disclosed in the 2001 FEIS are updated or supplemented for resources that may be substantially affected by changes in circumstances or new information. Only the specific issues associated with supplemental information are addressed in the Draft SEIS. Issues satisfactorily addressed in the 2001 FEIS are not discussed in the Draft SEIS.

RCR proposes to construct, operate, and reclaim all facilities necessary to mine, remove, and transport economically mineable minerals from the Rock Creek deposit. The Rock Creek Project would include constructing a mill for ore processing, a paste tailings disposal facility, a rail loadout for transportation of concentrate, and water treatment facilities. The Rock Creek Project would be conducted in two phases: (1) the construction and development of an evaluation adit (Phase I); and (2) the development, construction, operation, and reclamation of the mine and mill facilities (Phase II). The evaluation adit would be used for exhaust ventilation during mining. The Rock Creek ore deposit would be accessed through two parallel adits driven from outside the wilderness. A fourth adit may be constructed, if needed, for ventilation intake with a portal in the CMW. The underground mining operation would use a room-and-pillar mining method where pillars of ore would be left in place to support the rock above the room. The milling process would use a conventional froth flotation process, producing a copper/silver concentrate that would be shipped to a smelter by rail. The processed rock material left after the copper and silver minerals are extracted is called “tailings.” Tailings would be deposited as a paste in a tailings facility behind an embankment.

Alternative V is the KNF’s preferred alternative. All of the adit and mill facilities and a small portion the paste tailings disposal facility under Alternative V would be on National Forest Service lands currently managed for wildlife habitat, recreation, and commercial timber production. In January 2015, the Regional Forester approved a new forest plan for the KNF. The Draft SEIS includes an evaluation of the consistency of Alternative V with the 2015 Kootenai Forest Plan (KFP). Based on this consistency analysis, the Forest Supervisor shall determine whether a KFP amendment is needed for the Rock Creek Project.

The predecisional objection process described in 36 CFR 218 is now in effect. Under these regulations, individuals and entities who have submitted timely specific written comments, as defined in 36 CFR 218.2, regarding the Rock Creek Project during any designated opportunity for public comment are able to seek predecisional review of unresolved concerns before a Record of Decision is signed. 36 CFR 218 describes the predecisional objection process in detail. In accordance with 36 CFR 218.25, comments must be postmarked or received 45 days from the date the Notice of Availability of the Draft SEIS is published in the Federal Register. The Notice of Availability was published in the Federal Register on February 19, 2016 and the 45-day comment period will end on April 4, 2016. The project documents can be found on the Kootenai National Forest website at http://www.fs.usda.gov/projects/kootenai/landmanagement/projects, and copies will be maintained at select public libraries in Libby, Thompson Falls, Heron, Helena, and Missoula.  The responsible official for this decision is Forest Supervisor Christopher S. Savage.

Written comment can be submitted to Michael Huffine, Kootenai National Forest, 31374 U.S. 2, Libby, MT 59923-3022, or by email to: rockcreekmine@fs.fed.us. Comments can also be hand-delivered to the KNF between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., excluding weekends and holidays. The subject line must contain the name of the project, “Rock Creek Project”.  You may also contact Michael Huffine for any questions or to request more information for the Rock Creek Project at 406-293-6211.


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