Digging a hole 

A federal court ruling last week may have buried a controversial plan for a copper and silver mine beneath the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy rejected the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) approval of a large silver and copper mining operation near Noxon. The court ruled that the FWS overlooked serious concerns that the proposed Rock Creek Mine would drive grizzly bears and bull trout in the region extinct.

“Now [FWS] can try to come up with another plan or they can take seriously their responsibility to protect wildlife,” said Tim Preso, the attorney with the nonprofit public-interest law firm Earthjustice who argued the case on behalf of a coalition of nine environmental groups. “In the past it seems Fish and Wildlife has been more interested in authorizing mines than protecting wildlife.”

Revett Minerals Inc. CEO Bill Orchow told the Independent Monday that the decision was “quite a disappointment” but dismissed the idea of scrapping the mine altogether.

“The start-up has been delayed, but we still believe this project will move forward,” Orchow said.

The Washington-based mining company intended to begin pre-mining operations this spring. Revett estimates the mine would yield seven million ounces of silver, and 59 million pounds of copper annually during the first nine years of production.

Sandpoint resident Mary Mitchell, a member of the Rock Creek Alliance, said opponents of the mine are “very optimistic and hopeful” following last week’s ruling.

“We’re very pleased. This is not only a victory for the grizzly bears and the bull trout but for the local communities and water quality as well,” she said.

Mitchell said FWS is going to have a difficult time coming up with a plan that would not endanger the grizzlies and bull trout in the area.

“This decision is going to be a serious roadblock for the mine,” she said.

According to Orchow, a decision to appeal last week’s ruling has not yet been made, but Preso said his organization is poised to defend the wilderness again.

“I think the Fish and Wildlife Service is pretty well backed into a corner here,” Preso said.

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