Hearts and mines 

Revett Minerals goes on Rock Creek offensive

The latest salvo in the public relations war over the Rock Creek mining project was fired Nov. 6, when Canadian corporation Revett Minerals, owner of the Washington-based company that would operate the mine, began running advertisements in Montana newspapers and visiting with editorial boards.

One of the first things readers see in the full-color, half-page ad is a Mary Mitchell quote from an article that appeared in the Sept. 18 Bonner County [Idaho] Daily Bee. Mitchell, the executive director of the Rock Creek Alliance, an environmental group fighting the proposed mine, is quoted as saying, "I mean, the company's at a point where they're saying the mine is even going to help the grizzly bear."

At the bottom of the page is Revett's reply: "So you see, Mary, we are good for the bear!"

Between the two quotes is a photograph of three bears in a creek and five paragraphs explaining Revett's proposed mitigation plan for the mine, and how it would benefit the population of 15 to 20 grizzly bears in the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem.

Over the life of the mining project, the ad states, Revett plans to spend million, or "more than million for each bear known to live in the area."

Revett's mine would be dug in the Kootenai National Forest and extend for three miles beneath the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness. It is expected to produce 115 million ounces of silver and 935 million pounds of copper over 30 years.

Revett CEO William Orchow says his company chose to start its PR campaign now because it has the cash to do so, since Revett Minerals went public on the Toronto Stock Exchange last winter. Orchow says his corporation has been the victim of negative PR campaigning for years.

This isn't the first time the Rock Creek mine has been the subject of newspaper advertising. In March 2004, Michael Kowalski, board chairman and CEO of Tiffany's and Co., took out a full-page ad in The Washington Post criticizing the mine as harmful to grizzlies, bull trout and other wildlife.

Orchow says that ad, plus the work of environmental groups like Mitchell's, have created the perception that the general public is against the mines. Orchow says Revett used Mitchell's quote in its ad because it was the most recent example of negative PR regarding the mine. He hopes Revett's ad will begin to reverse a public image he says has been framed so far by Mitchell and others.

Actual impediments to the mine are the results of a revised biological opinion from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), permits from the Forest Service and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and, possibly, favorable court decisions.

So why spend money on public opinion?

Orchow says the ad is simply a matter of correcting misinformation, acknowledging it will have no direct effect on the future of the mine.

Mitchell agrees that the time for public input into the mine is over, but feels that, in general, it's best to have the public on your side. She says that she and the Rock Creek Alliance "will continue to build opposition" to the mine, and that Revett's ad ignores the impact of noise, light and the presence of humans at the site on the Cabinet-Yaak bears, beyond the mine's actual footprint. Any disturbance to such a small bear population, she says, could raise mortality rates and lower birth rates.

In addition, Mitchell points to Montana U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy's March summary decision in a lawsuit filed by the Rock Creek Alliance and other environmental groups against FWS over their biological opinion on the mine. Molloy found FWS' opinion that the mine would have no negative impact on bears "arbitrary and capricious," and has directed the agency to revise its opinion.

Above and beyond bears, Mitchell also notes the water quality issues associated with the mine. She says the mine will dump 3 million gallons of wastewater into the Clark Fork River, and that a 324-acre tailings dump site near Rock Creek could leech sulfuric acid into the nearby stream. Mitchell and other environmental groups also believe that the underground mine could cause alpine lakes in the wilderness area above to drain through subsidence. Land near Troy Mine, which is also owned by Revett and is near the proposed Rock Creek mine, appeared to show signs of subsidence this summer, but an independent review completed in August casts doubt that it was caused by the Troy Mine.

Orchow disputes Mitchell's claims about the mine's potential impact on water quality, and says more ads are on the way to tell Revett's side of that story.

Orchow also notes that FWS is expected to release a revised biological opinion in the near future.

But in Mitchell's view, Revett will never find a way to make the mine safe for grizzlies.

"There are no mitigations in the world that are going to protect the bears from this mine," she says.

Orchow has heard this from Mitchell before, and his response is ready: "I'm not trying to satisfy Mary Mitchell," he says. "I'm trying to satisfy the general public and the agencies involved."

How many newspaper ads that will require remains anyone's guess.

ppeters@missoulanews.com

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