The Montana Department of Environmental Quality received about 10,000 public comments during its initial analysis of a proposed copper mine near White Sulphur Springs.
The state held a 45-day comment period for “scoping” the Black Butte Copper Project. The comment period closed at 11:59 p.m. Thursday. The agency also took oral comments at public meetings in Great Falls, White Sulphur, Helena and Livingston.
On Friday, DEQ communications director Kristi Ponozzo said the agency was still receiving comments Thursday and had yet to fully count and sort them. Many of the comments came as form letters, with many generally focused on concerns over water quality and quantity, fisheries and potential impacts to the Smith River.
Black Butte has been controversial since its proposal and remains contentious as it works through the regulatory process.
Proponents of the mine see it as an economic boost to Meagher County and the greater area. Its developer, Tintina Resources, has made numerous commitments to use best environmental practices and technology to protect nearby Sheep Creek, a tributary of the iconic Smith River.
Opponents have raised several concerns about the project, mainly focused on potential impacts to the Smith if the mine causes pollution in the watershed. They also cite Tintina’s foreign ownership and potential for expansion as concerns over the project.
Opposition has also been largely organized, using social media, videos and billboards to question the project. The 10,000 comments received this year is a sharp jump compared to the nearly 4,000 DEQ received in 2014 for Tintina’s exploration permit.
Black Butte received a draft mining permit from DEQ in September, which triggers a legally required environmental impact statement to consider potential environmental consequences and develop alternatives for the project. The first step in the process is scoping, where the agency takes public comments on what issues should be considered through analysis.
DEQ did not get a request to extend public comment for scoping, Ponozzo said.
“It was 45 days, so that’s a fairly robust amount of time,” she said. “What we do now is take the comments, review, categorize and summarize them into a scoping report and that’ll help us as we lay out the EIS.”
DEQ does not yet have a timeline for completing the scoping report but will publish it once completed, she said.
Ponozzo said the public meetings were well attended, and those who attended had a lot of questions and were engaged and interested in the process. The meetings remained generally respectful, she said.