- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 25, 2015

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - Court-ordered settlement talks were held Wednesday in a mining dispute in which former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and others are seeking $10 million compensation over mining claims.

There was no immediate word on whether the two sides reached a resolution during the proceedings before Magistrate Judge Jeremiah Lynch.

The claims, or mining rights, were condemned in a legal action brought by Spokane-based Mines Management Inc. to make way for its proposed Montanore silver and copper mine near Libby.

Attorneys representing Schweitzer and others who own the claims requested the settlement conference. That came after U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen last month shot down key arguments used by Schweitzer’s group to justify the $10 million award it is seeking.

The value of an existing mine portal, known as an adit, at the mine site was used to justify the $10 million compensation figure. But U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen said in a February order the notion that compensation should be based on the replacement costs for a new portal was “fundamentally flawed.”

If the talks end without a deal, an April 8 trial is planned in Missoula, where an expert commission could decide the matter.

Schweitzer has been named as a witness to appear before the commission. He is a director in Optima Inc., which was established last year to invest in the mining claims at the heart of the dispute.

Despite Christiansen’s rejection of Optima’s arguments about the adit, Schweitzer said the group’s mine claims entitle it to compensation for their inability to mine if Montanore moves forward.

“What’s not in dispute is that this adit passes through our mining claim,” Schweitzer said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. “We own the rights to mine it, and those are property rights.”

The two-term Democratic governor also serves as chairman of Stillwater Mining Inc., which operates a pair of platinum and palladium mines in the Beartooth Mountains southeast of Billings. Stillwater representatives have said the company is not involved in the Montanore dispute.

The Montanore mine site holds an estimated 1.7 billion pounds of copper and 230 million ounces of silver beneath an area that includes the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, according to Mines Management.

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