Federal officials proposed approval of the first phase of the Rock Creek silver and copper mine near Noxon, MT with a final decision on the mine expected in coming weeks.
The Kootenai National Forest released a lengthy environmental study of the proposal, forest spokesman Willie Sykes said.
Hecla Mining Co. would initially mine on 20 acres to determine the feasibility of expanding to a full scale mine that would cover almost 500 acres in a northwestern Montana wilderness.
Hecla is proposing a second mine in the area near the town of Libby.
The Associated Press reported that in June, Montana regulators asked a judge to block Hecla chief executive officer Phillips Baker Jr. from exploring or opening any new mines in the state.
The state Department of Environmental Quality said Baker and Hecla were in violation of the state’s “bad actor” law because of ongoing pollution caused by a mining company where Baker once worked.
Baker denies the claim, and Hecla has challenged the state’s assertions in court.
The Rock Creek Mine would be built beneath the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, raising concerns from conservation groups about potential harm to wildlife and water supplies.
The mine would employ about 300 people and produce an estimated 6 million ounces of silver and 50 million pounds of copper annually, according to Hecla.