Forest Service okays first step to develop new Hecla mine in Montana

Hecla Mining's (NYSE:HL) proposed Rock Creek mine in northwestern Montana has received a boost from a recent federal government decision.

The U.S. Forest Service will allow Hecla, one of the biggest silver producers in the United States, to build an adit and conduct an environmental evaluation, according to a report in local media the Flathead Beacon.

The potential mine is located just 10 miles from the Idaho border and extends under the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness Area. That has environmental groups fighting to stop it, claiming that water needed for the mine could drain water from streams in the wilderness area, harming fish and wildlife.

"All the evidence to date shows that these mines cannot be excavated under the Wilderness without lasting harm to the overlying streams and the fish and wildlife that find refuge there," said Bonnie Gestring of Earthworks, one of the opponents, as reported by Associated Press.

However it is too early to say what the mine's impact on the watershed will be; the Forest Service is expecting further studies to be done.

According to a microsite the Rock Creek project is 50 miles from its Lucky Friday Mine in Idaho. Hecla has three other producing mines: Casa Berardi in Quebec, Greens Creek in Alaska, and San Sebastian in Mexico. Hecla acquired the Rock Creek project in 2015 with the acquisition of Revett Mining Company.

The underground room-and-pillar operation would produce an estimated 6 million ounces of silver and 50 million pounds of copper annually. The mine sits on 481 acres and would be developed in two phases: construction and development of the 20-acre evaluation adit, followed by construction of the mine and mill facilities; ore would be processed through conventional crushing and flotation.

A December 2016 resource estimate shows inferred resources of 148 million ounces of silver and 655,070 tons of copper.