State shuts down new vermiculite mine 

Visit the Stansbury Holding Corporation’s website and you’d never know the company is in serious trouble for its mining in Montana.

The multi-page site speaks in glowing terms of the work being done at the company’s mine site near Dillon and its plans to open the “largest untapped vermiculite reserve in the United States” near Hamilton later this summer. Another page lists all the commercial and potential uses of vermiculite. Still another paints a rosy picture of Stansbury as an investment potential.

But back in Montana, the company is embroiled in battle, as heated as anything it has dealt with in its 31-year lifespan.

The mining operation near Dillon was shut down in March after the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration pulled a surprise inspection at the mine.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality is proposing a $125,000 fine, because the mine expanded operations beyond the five acres it is allowed to mine under its existing permit. According to DEQ reports, the mine exceeded the allowed five-acre disturbance area when it doubled the size of its access road.

And, the DEQ reopened the public comment period on the mine’s expansion from 5 acres to 75 acres because Stansbury has not paid its $258,000 reclamation bond, which is required before mining can occur. No bond, no permit from the state, but that hasn’t stopped Stansbury from going ahead, while touting the operation’s success on its website: “Currently the mine and mill are in operation, with ore being shipped to customers.”

Interested citizens now have until May 15 to comment on the Dillon mining proposal. An Environmental Assessment of the proposed project was completed in April 1999. After the initial publication of proposed action at the mine, the DEQ received no comment. However, when mining began in late fall, Dillon residents responded in strong opposition.

Their concerns were fueled in part by the recent health investigations of the W.R. Grace vermiculite plant near Libby. Many vermiculite deposits contain asbestiform fibers, which are known carcinogens. DEQ environmental management bureau chief Warren McCullough acknowledges those concerns in a press release, saying, “the DEQ believes it would be prudent to reexamine any potential for asbestiform fibers in the Elk Gulch [Dillon] ore deposit.”

Stansbury CEO Aldine Coffman of Denver called the shutdowns “time consuming” and the result of “paperwork glitches.” He insists the mine shows “no asbestos contamination” and says the assay work on the Dillon mine shows the level of asbestos in the ore is below any agency safety standards.

Website press releases predict the Dillon mine will enlarge operations from 30,000 tons per year to more than 100,000 tons in 2000. The site also claims “Hamilton, already generally permitted by a full EIS, is planned to be brought to limited seasonal production during the year.”

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