US agency approves Montana mine entangled in legal dispute

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Federal officials have approved the first phase of a silver and copper mine beneath a northwestern Montana wilderness area, but the proposal’s fate remains uncertain due to a legal dispute with state regulators.

Kootenai National Forest officials on Tuesday announced their approval of plans by Hecla Mining Co. to begin exploration work for the Rock Creek Mine near Noxon.

The Idaho-based company would initially mine on 20 acres, to determine the feasibility of a full-scale mine that would cover almost 500 acres.

Montana regulators in June asked a judge to block Hecla CEO Phillips Baker, Jr. from exploring or opening any new mines in the state.

They allege he’s in violation of the state’s “bad actor” law because of ongoing pollution caused by a mining company where Baker once worked.

Baker denies the claim.