- Associated Press - Friday, June 5, 2015

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - A group that includes Montana’s former governor asked a federal judge to reject a finding that it’s not entitled to compensation for mining claims that were taken to make way for a silver and copper mine near Libby.

Attorneys for Optima Inc. said in a court filing this week that an expert commission appointed by U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen ignored evidence that its mining claims contain gold. Mining claims give their owners certain property rights, but they can be removed to make way for other projects.

Two-term Gov. Brian Schweitzer is an investor in Optima.

Optima has sought up to $10 million in compensation after its claims were condemned in favor of the Montanore mine sponsored by Mines Management Inc. of Spokane, Washington. Optima attorney Stephen Brown said previous assessments of its claims showed the presence of gold on the claims at concentrations that were “marginally economic grade,” which he said was enough to justify additional exploration.

The three commissioners said in a May 13 report to Christensen that Optima could not show its claims had any value, in part because there was no proof they hold significant minerals to be mined.

Mines Management wants Christensen to throw out the compensation claim. Attorneys for the company said the commission’s report, which came after three days of hearings, confirmed their position that Optima’s claims were worth nothing.

“They had nearly two years to gather their evidence, and still failed to provide any evidence that could support an award of just compensation,” Mines Management attorney Mark Stermitz wrote in a Wednesday court filing.

The proposed mine holds an estimated 1.7 billion pounds of copper and 230 million ounces of silver beneath an area that includes the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness. It received preliminary approval in March from the U.S. Forest Service.

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