Is New Mining Still Possible in The Treasure State?
Local Environmental Groups Continue to Pressure Mine Development in Montana
Have you heard the joke about the miner that saw a bumper sticker that read “No Mining on the Smith River.” He pulled up and said, “Hey, I didn’t know they are thinking of mining on the Smith?” “Yeah, Just like Butte,” the lady said, “Open-pit.” The miner drove away shaking his head.
Yep, it really happened, no joke. Thanks to organizations like the Montana Environmental Information Center (MEIC) whose lawsuit alleged violations of the Clean Air Act and then forced the owners Talen Energy and Puget Sound to close units 1 and 2 at Colstrip by 2022, causing the future loss of hundreds of jobs and putting the future of Colstrip up in the air.
Tintina Resources is currently in the permitting stages of the proposed, highly engineered underground mine located 19 stream miles and 12 air miles from the Smith River. The proposed mine would bring in 240 top paying jobs in Meagher County near White Sulphur Springs.
There is no plan to mine the Smith river, it will not be an open-pit mine like in Butte, and it all must be approved by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) who gives it a rigorous review and then an environmental Impact Statement must be performed.
John Shanahan, The President and CEO of the Black Butte Copper Project was our guest Tuesday on Voices of Montana along with the Public Relations Director and White Sulphur Springs resident Nancy Schlepp.
The mine is located 15 miles south of White Sulphur Springs in Meagher County where the Johnny Lee deposit contains the second highest copper concentration of any deposit under development in the world, That’s right in the world!
The Black Butte Project is permitted as a strictly underground mine and is accessed through a mile long tunnel. The mines design and state of the art water treatment will prevent legacy issues. According to Shanahan, this is the future of how mining will be done from now on.
The mine will have a conventional flotation mill, so will use only organic compounds and no cyanide in the processing and that immediately takes a lot of environmental issues off the table. Not to mention, the land planned for the mine is privately owned.
Shanahan added, “Everyone wants a mine with a 100% guarantee that nothing could ever happen to the environment, and with this new type of mining this is as close as you can get.”
Tintina will use a “cut and fill mining” method. Cemented mill tailings, (cut up rock) called paste back fill, will be slurred in to completely fill and seal each mined area. Then, about 1/2 of the mill tailings can be returned to the ground this way reducing impact above ground.
Currently the company has 9 full-time employees and several contractors and businesses providing important information and inputs. Right now, there are 30-plus contractors and businesses with over 3.2 million invested in the mine.
President John Shanahan is no stranger to Montana. He was the president and CEO of the copper and silver mine in Troy, Montana owned by Revett mining from 2008 to 2015.
Although Shanahan is Australian, he has lived in the US for 25 years and has an excellent track record with mining in Montana and making them profitable. “Whats great”, he says, “Is that I have a background and a history here with the Troy mine project that anyone can research.”
Tintina has already spent over 35 million dollars and when the mining operation permitting process is through you can add-on another 20 million more. Estimates on the actual mine project is $218 million with a great deal of which will benefit White Sulphur Springs.
According to 3rd generation Meagher county resident and public relations director for Tintina Resources Nancy Schlepp, The Montana Business Assistance Connection has projected that the countywide taxable value will increase to upwards of 12 million dollars a year.
They also predict another 112 housing units will be needed in the community plus 31 additional school aged children will be attending school in Meagher county during operational stage. Projections for annual retail sales increasing by 3.4 million during the life of the mine.
Compensation for the expected 240 workers needed will depend on skill level but starting wages will be $15/hr and $29/hr for experienced miners and includes full benefit packages with an average yearly wage of around $65,000. More highly skilled positions are at Montana industry standards.
John Shanahan predicts that the project will continue for 14 years and explained that Montana is very unique and has what is called a “hard rock mining impact act” that insures local government services, facilities, social and infrastructure needs are taken care of upfront by taxes to mitigate any impacts.
With this Black Butte mining project and with the Johnny Lee deposit containing the second highest copper concentration of any deposit under development in the world. Shanahan says, “It would be a shame if this opportunity slips away from the good people of Montana.”
With groups like the MEIC, and the Montana Chapter of the Sierra Club, and with what has already happened with Colstrip, It’s hard to tell if this mine will ever happen but according to Nancy Schlepp, 90-95% of the residents of White Sulphur Springs sure hope the project goes through and feel that Tintina is a great company.
Most people who have called in to Voices of Montana have their fingers crossed, and remember, there is no mining on the Smith River, no matter what that bumper sticker says.
*Correction to this story was made on October, 20th 2016 showing MEIC is a (C) (3) organization and does not contribute to political campaigns. There members and board members are free to donate as they choose.
MEIC is a 501 (C) (3) organization and cannot and does not contribute to political campaigns. MEIC has no control over the activities of its board members whom can contribute to any cause they wish acting in their individual capacity.