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Proposed Paradise Valley Mine Needs More Study, Court Rules

Emigrant Peak in Montana's Paradise Valley. The valley is north of Yellowstone Park near the location of two gold mines proposed in 2015.
Eric Whitney
Montana Public Radio
Emigrant Peak in Montana's Paradise Valley north of Yellowstone Park.

A Montana judge has chastised state environmental regulators over a mine exploration project near Yellowstone National Park.

The ruling out Park County Wednesday says the Montana Department of Environmental Quality gave Lucky Minerals the go ahead last year to explore for gold in Paradise Valley north of Yellowstone without looking closely enough at whether it would impact sensitive wildlife habitat and water conditions.

Jenny Harbine is an attorney for Earthjustice, which represented Park County Environmental Council and Greater Yellowstone Coalition in the lawsuit.

“Montana has a law that requires the state to fully consider the environmental consequences of the decisions they make. And here, that law was broken,” Harbine said.

Judge Brenda Gilbert’s order says that DEQ did not properly consider impacts on wolverines and grizzly bears, or the potential impacts on water quality due to contaminated flow from drill holes. And those are violations of the Montana Environmental Policy Act, the judge said.

Kristi Ponozzo, the public policy director with DEQ, says the agency has not yet decided if it will appeal the case.

“We’re currently reviewing the decision," Ponozzo said. "When we’ve fully reviewed the decision we will then decide how we’re going to proceed.”

Before the court’s ruling, the DEQ had said that the agency had determined that the mining project did not pose significant impacts to wildlife, soils, vegetation or water quality.

A lawyer for the environmental groups challenging the project say that while the judge’s ruling calls out the state’s flawed analysis, the cout is not able to void the companies exploration permit.

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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