LIVINGSTON, Mont. (AP) — A proposal to develop a copper mine near a Smith River tributary has split public opinion between those who say it would be an economic boon and those who don't want to risk harming one of Montana's most popular recreational waterways.
Each side was evenly represented Monday night in Livingston during a public hearing on the Black Butte Copper Project about 15 miles (24 kilometers) north of White Sulphur Springs, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle report ed.
The mine would be located near Sheep Creek, a tributary of the Smith River. Montana Department of Environmental Quality officials concluded last month in a draft environmental analysis that the mine would cause the river no harm.
The Smith River is a blue-ribbon trout fishery that passes through steep limestone canyons as it flows to the Missouri River. It is so popular with boaters that it is the only river in Montana where a permit is required for a three- or four-day float.
Despite the DEQ's analysis, opponents of the mine said at the hearing the risk to the river is not worth it.
"Is DEQ really ready to make a guinea pig out of one of Montana's most prized watersheds?" said David Brooks, executive director of Montana Trout Unlimited.
Supporters said the project would create jobs, help Meagher County's tax base and keep people in White Sulphur Springs. They thought the company behind the project, Sandfire Resources-owned Tintina Montana, could mine safely and protect the environment.
"I don't think there's any possible way that the safety and quality of the Smith River or Sheep Creek will ever be jeopardized," said Rick Ellison, who grew up near the Smith River.
The hearing was the second of three scheduled to discuss the DEQ's findings. The public comment period ends May 10, after which the agency will issue a final environmental analysis before deciding whether to issue the project permits for mining, water discharge and air quality.
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Information from: Bozeman Daily Chronicle, http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com