Agreement bans openpit mining at site of proposed Black Butte copper mine

May 2, 2019

Sandfire Resources, the company that is working to develop the Black Butte copper mine near White Sulphur Springs, MT, has agreed to a 25-year prohibition on openpit mining.

Sandfire Resources, formerly Tintina Resource, is currently in the final stage of permitting with the state of Montana. It reached agreement with Meagher County Stewardship Council, a nonprofit citizens group.

The Billings Gazette reported that the Montana Department of Environmental Quality is taking public comment on its draft environmental impact statement analyzing the mine’s potential effects on the environment. Through a combination of treated water and backfilling tunnels with cemented tailings, the state believes mining can take place without harm to the Smith River or its tributary Sheep Creek – a conclusion that has been questioned by conservationists.

The agreement, which both the council and company say is legally enforceable, prohibits openpit mining on both the private land where Black Butte is located as well as federal mining claims owned by Sandfire. Black Butte is proposed as an underground mine.

Becky Townsend, executive director of the council, says the group formed last year to work on issues in Meagher County, including concerns around the proposed mine as well as other community interests, such as bringing more art into the community. The council is made up primarily of county residents, business owners and ranchers and includes both proponents and opponents of the mine, she said.

“Between (mining officials) and the council, we felt the agreement would be a good reassurance to the public that there will be no open pit mining,” Townsend said. “Sandfire has always said there would be no open pit mining but this would make that more clear.”

Both parties agreed to the 25-year time frame from a business standpoint that would allow it to be revisited, she said. It was also important to the council that the agreement be legally binding if the company were sold.

Nancy Schlepp, communications vice president for Sandfire, said that contracts with private landowners already prohibit open pit mining.

“(Openpit mining) has been part of what the public has been concerned about – we still have visitors that think it’s an open pit mine,” Schlepp said. “The stewardship council wants to make sure of this as well so we thought it was a great opportunity.”

Sandfire was interested in the 25-year time frame based on the expected life of Black Butte, she said, including construction and reclamation.

Sandfire has touted the potential of a 50-year mining district in the area to investors, but has not announced any formal plans for future mining beyond Black Butte.


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