This November 2016 Tintina Resources – the Australian backed company proposing a new copper mine in the headwaters of Montana’s famed Smith River – applied for a Clean Water Act Section 404 Permit (AKA, a dredge and fill permit) to construct roads and a tailings facility … directly in wetlands and adjacent small headwater streams.
A 404 permit can only be issued if it follows Clean Water Act guidelines including, among others things:
- No permit if there is a practicable alternative that would have less adverse effect on the aquatic ecosystem;
- No permit if significant degradation of the aquatic ecosystem will occur;
- No permit without all appropriate and practicable measures to minimize potential harm to the aquatic ecosystem;
- No permit if there isn’t sufficient information to make a reasonable judgment as to whether the Project will comply with clean water rules
In addition to these legal requirements, the US Army Corps must analyze the Project’s direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts, meaning it must look at available information and public comments and make a best judgment call on whether the totality of likely effects will be significant. Here, one of the primary concerns is the fact that the whole purpose behind the requested 404 permit is backfilling and dredging wetlands and adjacent streams in order to build roads that carry mine ores, and to create the tailings facility which will hold potential acid-generating ores.
We find it hard to imagine how building a mine tailings pit over geography that feeds Little Sheep Cr., Sheep Cr., and ultimately the Smith River and Missouri River, could not represent significant potential adverse impacts. Because this 404 permit represents a new, necessary authorization related to development of the larger Smith Mine proposal (AKA, the Black Butte Copper Mine) Upper Missouri Waterkeeper is drafting technical comments that use best available science and the law to show the unavoidable threat a copper mine poses to the Smith River Watershed. As we’ve said many times before, some places are too special, too unique, to risk for private profit.
We will be putting out templates to help you submit a public comment to the US Army Corps right after the Thanksgiving – stay tuned for your opportunity to take action and protect the Smith!