Changing their mines 

If the owners of the two most publicly prominent potential mines affecting northwest Montana got together, perhaps they could create the largest public relations firm in the state.

At a Dec. 7 Flathead Basin Commission meeting in Kalispell, Kathy Eichenberger, regional manager for British Columbia’s Ministry of Environment, announced that Cline Mining Corp. would seek a large-mine permit, rather than a small-mine permit, for its proposed coal mine on Foisey Creek, just north of Glacier National Park in Canada. Environmental groups from both Canada and Montana, as well as government officials including Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger, attended the meeting.

At first glance, Eichenberger’s announcement appears to be bad news for those concerned that the mine would foul the waters of the North Fork of the Flathead River and Flathead Lake.

The small-mine permit would have allowed the mining of 250,000 tons of coal each year. The company has said that under the large-mine permit it intends to mine up to 2 million tons each year.

But before last week’s announcement, Cline financial documents revealed the company’s plan to apply for the small-mine permit first, then pursue a large-mine permit later. By starting off as a small mine, the company could have circumvented the more stringent environmental review process required for large-mine permits.

The strategy had environmentalists on both sides of the border, and politicians on the Montana side, in an uproar. But after Wednesday’s meeting, government officials and local environmentalists both said they were pleased with Cline’s decision.

In the meantime, Revett Minerals continues its public relations campaign for the Rock Creek Mine, which would burrow beneath the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, home to approximately 15 endangered grizzlies. Revett launched a PR campaign for the mine on Nov. 6, running half-page newspaper ads and visiting with newspaper editorial boards.

The campaign appears to be working. Gov. Brian Schweitzer called the mine “promising” in late November, and last week, Lincoln County Commissioners said they would intervene on behalf of the U.S. Forest Service in a suit brought by Montana environmental groups over the Service’s approval of Revett’s mine.

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