The Helena City Commission is slated to consider a resolution on Monday night calling for “absolute certainty” that a proposed copper mine near White Sulphur Springs won’t harm the Smith River.

The resolution is entitled as in support of Smith River State Park and an expression of concern regarding proposed mining that may adversely impact the river, the quality of life of Helena’s residents and the Helena economy.

It was proposed by Commissioner Robert Farris-Olsen in September and its formal consideration was endorsed by a majority of the city commission during an administrative meeting at that time.

City commissioners will consider the resolution when they meet at 6 p.m. on Oct. 17 in the commission meeting room on the third floor of the City-County Building.

The Smith River is located in Meagher County and White Sulphur Springs, the nearest town to the proposed mine, is more than 70 miles from Helena.

The Black Butte Copper Project is proposed by Tintina Resources Inc., based in Canada, which is controlled by Australian-based Sandfire Resources. The mine would take place adjacent to and beneath Sheep Creek, which is a tributary of the Smith River.

The resolution has changed since it was first introduced by Farris-Olsen when it called for the mining proposal to 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.

Farris-Olsen is married to Erin Farris-Olsen, a board member of the Montana Environmental Information Center. The Montana Environmental Information Center is one of the leading critics of the mine and in 2014, sued the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and Tintina to challenge the company’s proposed exploration permit.

Robert Farris-Olsen said he does not see a conflict of interest by proposing the resolution, explaining that the resolution is a policy statement and the city is not actively fighting the mine.

Among language in the resolution is that noting the Smith River’s economic importance to the state’s recreational economy although the Meagher County commissioners in an Oct. 4 letter to Robert Farris-Olsen and the Helena commission asked for factual proof of the figures while not disputing them.

The Meagher County commissioners’ letter also said the resolution suggests the Montana Department of Environmental Quality is an inept agency and that Robert Farris-Olsen would be better qualified to render judgment because of the language calling for the mine proposal to be “viewed skeptically.”

“We are uncertain of your qualifications in making judgment,” the Meagher County commission’s letter continued and asked for an explanation.

The application for the mine was initially sent back to the company for revision and recently resubmitted for state review and approval.

Mine officials have said after state approval would come a more extensive environmental review with more opportunities for public comment.

Among letters that have since been written to the city regarding the proposed resolution is that by Sue Hawthorne who on Sept. 28 wrote the city commission and Mayor Jim Smith to say she was curious why the city was trying to act on a matter outside its jurisdiction.

“I remind you your jurisdiction stops at the city limits or just outside of it not in Meagher County,” her letter stated.

An Oct. 12 letter from local business owners said it applauded Robert Farris-Olsen’s resolution and asked for the commission’s full support.

Because of the river’s contribution to Montana’s economy, the letter continued, “that’s why it is completely reasonable, if not necessary, for the city of Helena to make a simple statement that expresses the concerns of Helena citizens and businesses regarding the potential impacts from mining in the Smith River headwaters.”

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Al Knauber can be reached at al.knauber@helenair.com


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

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