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Tintina Applies For Black Butte Mine Operating Permit

MontPIRG Intern Sophie Moon, and owner of Blackfoot River Outfitters John Herzer at a MontPIRG press conference.
Courtesy Bryce Bennett
MontPIRG Intern Sophie Moon, and owner of Blackfoot River Outfitters John Herzer at a MontPIRG press conference.

Tintina resources today filed an application for an operating permit for its proposed Black Butte copper mine near White Sulphur Springs that the company has been preparing for years.

Tintina started exploratory work on the proposed mine about four years ago. Last month, an Australian-owned firm became Tintina’s majority owner.

The mine would be located on private land, which the company says contains a copper deposit with more than 11 million tons of the metal.

The proposal is controversial because the mine would be a mile from Sheep Creek, a tributary of the Smith River, which is prized for its fly fishing and opportunities for multi-day float trips. Tintina has long insisted its mine wouldn’t threaten the Smith or Sheep Creek, as in this promotional video.

[Video]: "Tintina has deliberately designed the mine site to minimize the amount of wetlands to less than two acres, and to keep all surface facilities out of Sheep Creek valley."

Environmental groups have been fighting the mine proposal from the start. Today, MontPIRG called a press conference at Blackfoot River Outfitters in Missoula. Company Owner John Herzer said he is skeptical of mining company promises.

“The history shows that time after time after time these mines, they say ‘yeah we’re going to do it right. We’re not going to have any water issues, water quality issues.’ But it’s never been proven that that’s going to happen.”

Montana Department of Environmental Quality officials will conduct an initial review to make sure Tintina's application is complete and complies with state law, DEQ public policy director Kristi Ponozzo said. Any deficiencies in the application would have to be addressed before the state issues a draft permit to the company.

State officials will then conduct a study of the potential environmental effects of the mine that must be completed within a year before a final decision can be made, Ponozzo said.

Construction of the mine would take two to three years, according to company officials. Tintina estimates it will cost about $218 million to build the mine, which Tintina says would employ about 250 staff and 50 contractors.

Eric Whitney is NPR's Mountain West/Great Plains Bureau Chief, and was the former news director for Montana Public Radio.
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