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Helena commissioner wants proof that mine wouldn't harm Smith River


In 2016, 966 Helena residents participated in the drawing for a permit to float the Smith River, and about 100 of them were successful.

Helena City Commissioner Robert Farris-Olsen plans to ask fellow commissioners to adopt a resolution urging officials not to permit any mining activities that could harm the Smith River. 

“I just wouldn’t want to risk that fishery and river should anything go wrong with that mine,” he said on Tuesday.

“We do have the history of mining in Montana that causes me great concern,” he said, noting the harm mining has caused to other Montana rivers and local economies.

Tintina Resources Inc., based in Canada and controlled by Australian-based Sandfire Resources, is proposing the Black Butte Copper Project near a Smith River tributary close to White Sulphur Springs.

According to the draft version of the resolution, “any proposed mining activities that could potentially affect the health and vitality of the Smith River should be viewed skeptically and should not be permitted unless the applicant can demonstrate with 100 percent certainty that the proposal will not harm the river.”

The potential impact on Sheep Creek, a tributary of the river that is also a spawning stream for rainbow trout, Farris-Olsen said, was also a concern for him.

“There’s just a lot of risks,” he said, adding that he wanted the city of Helena to express concerns. 

Farris-Olsen said he plans to offer the resolution for discussion during today’s administrative meeting of the city commission, and for possible adoption during the commission’s Oct. 17 meeting.

The Smith River generates close to $10 million in economic activity, close to $3 million in salaries and wages and about $750,000 in state and local tax revenue, according to the resolution.

Several Helena-area residents and businesses depend on the river in part for their income, the resolution states, adding that in 2016 966 Helena residents participated in the drawing for a permit to float the river and about 100 of them were successful.

Those who want to float a 59-mile stretch of the river, with one place to put in watercraft and one place to take out, must enter a drawing for a launch date because of the river’s popularity.

Both historic and modern mining activity in Montana, the resolution continues, has caused irreparable and long-lasting damage to the water and wildlife of many of the state’s prized rivers and streams.

Advocates of the Tintina mining project see an economic opportunity, while those with concerns worry that the mining may have adverse effects on Sheep Creek and the Smith River.

Responses to deficiencies with the mine permit application were submitted Monday to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

The Smith River was listed among American Rivers’ 10 most endangered rivers this year. The organization’s website says it’s a national rivers conservation organization that was formed in 1973. Its genesis is traced to a response to the construction of dams its founders viewed as unnecessary and said were silencing many of the nation’s last wild, free-flowing rivers.

American Rivers' website said, “this legendary trout stream is in danger of permanent degradation from a proposed copper mine. The state of Montana must require the mining company, Tintina Resources, to prove beyond any doubt that their operation will produce no acid mine drainage or cause any environmental harm to the Smith River or its tributaries before the project is allowed to proceed.”

Al Knauber can be reached at


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I am a staff writer at the Independent Record covering primarily city and county governments.

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