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Sandpoint Protest Highlights National Issue

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Sandpoint Protest Highlights National Issue

The rally to protest the Rock Creek Mine drew nearly a thousand people to hear speeches, walk across Standpoint’s long bridge, and express their opposition to the proposed copper/silver mine near Noxon, Montana. The crowd was in a celebratory mood in the aftermath of the Federal Fish and Wildlife’s withdrawal of their Biological Opinion and the subsequent withdrawal, by the U.S. Forest Service, of the Record of Decision in permitting the mine.
    The Sandpoint gathering is part of a larger bi-partisan, populous movement that is seeking to change the 1872 Mining Law. This law was passed in the era of the Homestead Act and the Railroad land-give-away in order to promote development of the West. It gives mining the predominant use of public land regardless of other land uses or environmental sensitivity. Designed to provide for the pick and shovel miner of the 1800’s, this law now gives royalty-free minerals to multi-national mining corporations and is becoming a target of the anti-subsidy groups as well as environmental organizations.
    Speaking to the crowd, Mary Mitchell, executive director of Rock Creek Alliance, called the Fish and Wildlife withdrawal, "a victory. But," she added, "we must be ever vigilant." Mitchell expects the agency to resubmit their Biological Opinion in five to six months. "This mine will never happen if we keep the pressure on."
    Keeping the pressure on were the speakers for the event: Idaho Representative George Eskridge, Bonner County Commissioner, Tom Suttmeier, and Sandpoint Realtor, Jim Watkins. They all expressed concern that mine discharges would damage Lake Pend Oreille while providing no benefit to Idaho citizens.
    Mine opponents were a multi-aged group of prosperous professionals, young parents pushing strollers, housewives, kids on bikes and a smattering of the gray-haired. The group, united in their belief that the Rock Creek mine would pollute the lake, applauded statements made by the speakers. Waving posters saying, "This land is our land, not mine land," and, "Save the lake, I’m not done playing in it yet," the large crowd set out to walk across the 2¼ mile-long bridge.
    The will of the American public to protect their environment is expressed in the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Both of these Acts may be pitted against the 1872 Mining Law over the Rock Creek Mine permits. The Biological Opinion, withdrawn by USFW in the face of legal appeals by a variety of environmental and conservation groups, did not meet ESA’s requirements of habitat protection for grizzlies.
    The focus of the rally was water quality. The Clean Water Act gives oversight responsibility to the states; in Montana, the permits are issued by the Department of Environmental Quality. This agency has not withdrawn their permits, nor their approval of mine development.

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Lou Springer Lou Springer lives in Heron when not out on a river somewhere.

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