On Monday, Nov. 6, 2017, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) held the third of four public scoping meetings on Tintina’s Black Butte Copper Project Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). An EIS will be written from what has been discussed at the meetings, as well as the comments sent to DEQ, via postage or email.
The meeting had nearly 150 attendants, 37 of which gave their verbal comments for review, with many others giving written comments. The project which was discussed, is located on Sheep Creek, about 15 miles off of the Smith River.
The purpose of the scoping meetings, according to the Scoping Process under Montana Environmental Policy Act(MEPA), is, “To provide information about Tintina’s proposed project, to identify issues related to the proposed project that are likely to involve significant impacts that will be analyzed in depth in the EIS and to identify possible alternatives to be considered.”
The scoping meeting highlighted a variety of public opinions and concerns. Several comments from the public expressed concern over the mine, specifically how it would affect the Smith River’s wildlife and outdoor recreation, such as fishing. These concerns will be further addressed by the DEQ as the application progresses. However, according to the project’s website, blackbuttecopper.com, “The Black Butte Copper Project will be an underground mine. This means that traditional land uses such as agriculture, cattle grazing and outdoor recreation will continue.”
Through the public scoping, the DEQ is looking for substantive comments from the public. Substantive comments should identify an issue or an alternative that should be examined in the EIS.
The public scoping meeting was the second step in the process of making a decision on the application. The entire process includes receiving the application, public scoping, finalizing the possible impacts and alternatives, which will lead to the first draft of the EIS. The EIS will then be open for public comment again, leading to a final EIS and decision from the DEQ.
“We have already received the application for the mine, it’s a copper mine out of Sulphur Springs, in the Sheep Creek drainage,” Public Policy Director of DEQ, Kristi Ponozzo, said. “We’ll put together an EIS that discusses impacts to water, air, wildlife and socioeconomics. Then we actually put that out for comment again, to ask people, ‘Did we hit the right issues? Are there things that we missed? Are there things we need to look at more?’ in order to do the impacts analysis correctly.”
Many of the attendants were concerned about the unknown effects on the environment. Representative, and former DEQ remediation employee, MaryAnn Dunwell, gave some comments on her concerns of what mining may do to the Smith and surrounding area.
“Mining throughout the years, has left our state polka-dotted with pollution. Some pollution, water pollution, that will exist in perpetuity,” Dunwell said. She then held up a picture from the Montana Independent Record, of a woman holding up a glass of drinking water. “I looked at it in the morning, and I said, ‘This woman is holding up a glass of orange juice, or maybe Tang.’ She is from the Zortman Landusky area, and this is her drinking water, it’s orange.”
Concern was also raised for how the mine is planning to do the reclamation of the land. John Sullivan, Chairman of the Montana Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, brought up his concerns. The application, along with mine tour, did not provide sufficient information on some processes of the mine, specifically the reclamation of the land.
“I represent thousands of sportsmen across the state, and I too have been to the mine tour. They have a fantastic group of people there, who I believe are trying to do it right. One of the questions that I had on their proposed process was about, when they pull the rock out of the ground, turn it to a slurry, mix it with concrete, then put it back in the ground. So I asked, ‘How many mines have done that in the past?’ The gentleman that was there told me there was only a handful who have done it, and none of them had been to the scale of Tintina’s proposal.” Sullivan said. “He then told me that they’d have to wait and see once they started mining, to get the right slurry mix to concrete, to be sustainable over time. This is an answer I cannot accept. So, I want to implore you, as the DEQ, to use your time and the best possible science to look at the details of that slurry mix, because that’s the thing that will cause the most problems if it’s not sustainable.”
Though others voiced the same fears, that the water could be negatively affected by the mine, many were in support of the mine. The main reason many were in favor of it, is the positive financial impact it could have on the surrounding area, while keeping environmental impact very minimal. Senator Terry Gauthier was at the meeting to give his thoughts on the project, explaining why he was in favor of the mine.
“I got to see this modern day mine, and basically how they are going to put this operation together. In my personal opinion, I feel like they have a solid project here. We are $220 million in debt here in Montana, and this mine can create revenue to help with the debt,” Gauthier said. “If this mine is actually being done the way it is proposed, it’s going to be done safely, and we should move forward with this whole thing. I am a proponent of it, unless there’s a fact-based situation saying it’s not going to be healthy for the environment and it’s not gonna work, then I’ll change my opinion.”
The DEQ is still accepting comments from the public, until Thursday, Nov. 16. The next commenting period is proposed to be opened in mid-April 2018, and will be on the first draft of the EIS.
Mailing address for comments:
Department of Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 200901
Helena, MT 59620-0901