Hecla’s silver-copper project in remote Montana overcomes hurdle

Kootenai National Forest, an agency that manages 154 forests and 20 grasslands in the U.S., announced today that they have approved the first phase of Hecla Mining’s silver and copper mine in northwestern Montana.

The Rock Creek Mine would be built beneath the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, an area of glaciated peaks and valleys that take their name from the area’s box-like rock formations. Grizzly bears and wolverines inhabit the terrain.

Despite the KNF’s approval for the project, the Associated Press reports there is no clarity as to when work could begin at the remote site because of an ongoing legal dispute between Montana environmental regulators and Hecla (NYSE: HL).

Back in March, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality accused Phillips S. Baker Jr., president and chief executive officer of the Idaho-based firm, of being in violation of the state’s “bad actor” law because of ongoing pollution caused by the now-defunct Zortman Mining Inc. and Pegasus Gold Mining Inc., where Baker once worked. Hecla replied with a legal challenge against the ruling.

The company has chances of prevailing, given that the “bad actor” law has only been used once before, and Hecla’s CEO is the first top executive to be scrutinized under it. However, even in that scenario, there is uncertainty around the miner’s plans to explore 20 acres to determine the feasibility of a full-scale, 500-acre operation because an operating plan has to be previously approved by the federal government.