Hecla issue ‘double talk’ from DEQ just doesn’t make sense

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I respect the importance Department of Environmental Quality has in ensuring protection of Montana’s environment. We acknowledge Director Livers’ support for Hecla when he accurately stated, “DEQ recognizes that Hecla’s track record of mine operations and reclamation has earned the company a favorable reputation for commitments to safety and to minimizing environmental impacts from mining.”

We also support the intent of the law to hold operators accountable for compliance. However, the director’s actions and public statements make it clear that he and his agency are being pressured for the political gain of others, both inside and outside Montana. How often does the head of a state agency write an editorial that is not about general policy but about singling out one company and one individual?

The Bullock administration is pursuing an action against Hecla and Mr. Baker to preclude either from mining in Montana because of actions by Pegasus Gold, a company completely unrelated to Hecla. Ironically, in May, the director testified before the Environmental Quality Council that Mr. Baker was not employed by Pegasus when the Department of Environmental Quality received funds in 1998 to perform reclamation work in Montana. So, what the Bullock administration is doing is reaching back over 20 years and holding an individual liable for actions made by a company after that person had left the company — all designed to delay project development for political gain.

Mr. Baker was employed by Pegasus for only four of the 20-plus years the company operated in Montana. The Department of Environmental Quality has rightfully stated that Pegasus was in compliance with its bonding requirements throughout the time Mr. Baker was at Pegasus. DEQ’s actions send a chilling message about doing any business with any certainty in Montana. Director Livers is also feeding misperceptions about Hecla’s current reclamation work in Montana. He knows that Troy Mine Inc., Hecla Mining’s subsidiary, is still on track to complete Troy Mine reclamation as scheduled.

He also knows that we have invested over $6 million in reclamation work, have doubled the bond to $24.7 million, placed soil on over 290 acres of the tailings facility or 90 percent of it, reseeded some 140 acres, and will complete removal of the mill building. DEQ’s actions have clearly put the Troy Mine permit in limbo. In recent legal filings, the Department of Environmental Quality asserted that Troy Mine, Inc. and Hecla are one and the same, despite being separate corporations. It has also asserted that Hecla cannot conduct any mining-related operations, but then states publicly that Troy Mine, Inc. can conduct mining reclamation operations.

Which is it? This sort of double talk just doesn’t make common sense and is inconsistent with the rule of law. Finally, Director Livers has expressed a preference that we give up legal arguments to expedite the lawsuit. However, we have repeatedly asked the Department of Environmental Quality to ensure that permits are legally valid and will not be unilaterally revoked or suspended during the litigation. The agency has refused to commit. Does that sound fair?

There is good news though. The U.S. Forest Service has opened the door for Phase I of the Rock Creek project. We have heard from hundreds of local people, businesses, and elected officials on how these mines would positively change their lives. We are committed to the people of Northwest Montana, to be your community partner and bring high-wage careers to an area with the highest unemployment in Montana.

Gov. Bullock claims to be pro-jobs while he travels outside Montana exploring a presidential run. It’s time for him to demonstrate that jobs and Montana’s prosperity are a top priority.

Doug Stiles is general manager for Revett Silver and a Montana native.

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