- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 16, 2015

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - A mining company applied Wednesday for an operating permit for an underground copper mine that conservationists and sportsmen groups fear could harm the popular Smith River and its trout fishery.

Tintina Resources Inc.’s Black Butte Copper Project would be located on private land that contains one of the highest-grade copper deposits in the world with more than 11 million tons, according to a statement by the company.

“We are designing a mining operation which we feel will be best-in-class with respect to protecting the environment, while providing a significant economic opportunity for Meagher County and the surrounding area,” said Jerry Zieg, Tintina’s vice president of exploration.

The mine site is a mile from Sheep Creek, which feeds into the Smith River. The river is one of Montana’s most popular fly-fishing destinations, with demand so high the state conducts a lottery each year to regulate the number of people making multiday float trips.

The Smith River is too valuable to the state to risk with the development of a mine that feeds into its headwaters, Benjamin Bulis of the American Fly Fishing Trade Association said in a statement. “Is it worth developing any resource that has the potential of destroying a treasure?” he said.

Tintina’s application includes plans for storage facilities and technology that will protect surface and ground water, company officials said.

The company estimated it will cost about $218 million to build the mine. Black Butte would employ about 250 staff and 50 contractors, according to Tintina.

Montana Department of Environmental Quality officials will conduct an initial review to make sure Tintina’s application is complete and complies with state law, DEQ public policy director Kristi Ponozzo said. Any deficiencies in the application would have to be addressed before the state issues a draft permit to the company.

State officials will then conduct a study of the potential environmental effects of the mine that must be completed within a year before a final decision can be made, Ponozzo said.

Construction of the mine would take two to three years, the company officials said.

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