Hecla reports results; court rules in favor of Rock Creek Mine permit
Montana's Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hecla Mining’s proposed Rock Creek Mine, saying state officials conducted an appropriate review before granting a water permit for the proposed silver and copper mine that would run beneath a wilderness area near the Idaho border.
On Feb. 17, the court ruled 5-2 to reverse a lower court decision from 2019 that said officials had failed to consider potential damage to nearby streams from Hecla Mining Co.'s proposed Rock Creek Mine, NBC Montana reported.
The mine beneath the Cabinet Mountains near Noxon would employ about 300 people and cover almost 500 acres.
More than two years ago, the Kootenai National Forest issued a decision giving RC Resources -- a subsidiary of Hecla Mining -- permission to further explore the extensive copper and silver deposits northeast of Noxon above the Bull River.
That would have allowed the company to drill a mile deeper under the Cabinet Mountains.
In 2019, a Lewis and Clark County judge overturned a Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) water use permit in the case brought by the Clark Fork Coalition and other groups.
In the 5-to-2 decision, the justices also rejected arguments that the opponents' constitutional rights to a "clean and healthful environment" had been violated by the DNRC permit.
The decision comes after Hecla reported fourth quarter and full year results in which it reported that its silver production reached 13.5 million ounces in 2020, a 7 percent improvement over the previous year. Gold production of 208,962 ounces was down 23 percent from 2019, which was Hecla’s highest annual gold production year.
Hecla now has the third-highest silver and gold reserves in the company’s 130-year history, despite “significant interruptions” to the 2020 exploration program due to COVID-19.
“The COVID pandemic provided significant challenges to Hecla and the mining industry; however, due to our people and the jurisdictions we operate in, Hecla exceeded the high end of our pre-COVID silver guidance by 1.4 million ounces,” CEO Phillips S. Baker Jr. said in a media release.
During the fourth quarter, Hecla’s Lucky Friday Mine in Idaho returned to full production levels, which, together with positive results from the work at Casa Berardi and the continued consistency of Greens Creek, allowed the company to increase its projected silver production guidance for 2021.
“Silver production from our US silver mines is expected to go from 8 million ounces in 2018 to almost 15 million ounces by 2023, further increasing Hecla’s position as the most significant U.S. silver producer,” Baker said.
In 2021, the company’s exploration program will follow up on those high-grade discoveries that have the potential to be expanded or developed into North America’s next high-quality deposits.
“Examples of this are Midas’ Green Racer Sinter target, where we have made a multi-ounce gold discovery in a never before drilled target, and at San Sebastian’s El Bronco vein, where we are seeing high-grade over significant widths,” Baker added.