Tester takes detailed look at Troy Mine operation

Western News

by Canda Harbaugh

After a visit to Troy Mine on Friday, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said he was impressed with the operation – good news for officials who want to gain support for Rock Creek, a proposed mine that they say would emulate Troy.

“To look at these mines to see firsthand what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, what the environmental impacts are I think is critically important,” Tester said, “especially as we talk about moving forward with new opportunities in mining.”

Tester, accompanied by his wife, Sharla, spoke with workers and management, toured the mill, and learned about the mine’s process, history and economic and environmental impacts during his 2-1/2 hour visit Friday morning.

Tim Lindsey, board chairman of Troy Mine’s parent company, Revett Minerals, also described the serious economic challenges that the mine has overcome since mineral prices plummeted less than two years ago. The company cut wages and narrowly avoided permanent closure and the laying off of about 180 workers. Lindsey expressed hope now that mineral prices have stabilized and the company has found ways to better manage its debt and work more efficiently.

“We now can live to fight another day,” he said as he explained that wages and benefits have been restored.

Officials described to Tester the process of extracting copper and silver ore from rock mined underground. On a tour of the mill, he watched the material being crushed into dust and the ore separated in water through floatation.

“I learned this is a pretty darn clean mine, pretty well run,” Tester said. “… The folks that work here are very committed to the region and this mine, and I think that’s a nice combination.”

General mine manager Doug Miller explained that Rock Creek would have the same minimal environmental impact as Troy Mine has had.

“This is just a mirror image of Rock Creek. The footprint isn’t any different,” he said. “… What you see here today is hopefully what you’ll see in the future with Rock Creek.”

Miller and Tester spoke of litigation that has kept the company from moving forward with Rock Creek, a project that would be located in Sanders County near Noxon.

Tester was astonished at how long it has been in the permitting process.

“Twenty-five years? Are you kidding me?” he said. “Wow, that’s amazing.”

Most of the past legal challenges brought forth by environmental groups have been about adequately protecting endangered grizzly bears and bull trout. The U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Game have made changes to decision documents to address the issues. In the most recent litigation, District Judge Donald Molloy ruled in favor of the agencies on all but two claims – items that agency and mine officials believe will be relatively easy to address.

“It’s been about three times to his court,” Miller said. “Most of the challenges have been issues with the biological opinion. Most of those have been addressed, and it’s menial stuff now.”

Lindsey was pleased that Tester appeared to support Troy Mine, as well as Rock Creek.

“Our goal was to let him understand firsthand why we’re proud of this operation and why everybody that comes here comes away with a great amount of respect for this operation,” he said. “So that when we look to the future, for the development of Rock Creek, they see how it’s been done responsibly, and it’s not a great leap of faith then to believe that we can do that again at Rock Creek – only there create 300 jobs and have three generations of workers.”