Underground mining exploration moved closer this week to returning to Butte. The Montana Department of Environmental Quality has approved Butte Blackjack Operating LLC’s application for an exploration license.
On Monday, DEQ issued a final environmental assessment for the proposed exploration near Walkerville. The agency announced Wednesday it had approved the exploration license.
Blackjack will be required to file a reclamation and revegetation bond with DEQ in an amount to be determined by the agency.
Mark Hartmann, Blackjack director, said Wednesday the company is pleased about DEQ’s approval of the exploration license.
“We’re very excited about being able to get started,” he said.
And that could happen as soon as Blackjack is confident it has all the necessary permits to proceed, he said.
DEQ reported that the agency’s draft environmental impact received a total of 67 comments from 26 commenters.
One commenter observed, “The private lands [where exploration will occur] are surrounded by neighborhoods…that have been significantly impacted by past mining activities. It has taken years to repair the damage from past mining. These exploration activities will have a significant impact to the neighborhoods.”
Other commenters expressed concern about how Blackjack’s exploration activities could affect Superfund remedies. A portion of this exploration project falls within the Butte Priority Soils Operable Unit Superfund site boundaries.
DEQ said the EPA is responsible for requirements pertaining to mineral exploration within a Superfund site. “DEQ will regularly communicate with the EPA to share observations and updates about site activities, as well as to coordinate site inspections,” the agency said in a news release.
There was concern expressed too about how engaged Blackjack will be with the public as the work looms, proceeds and concludes.
Blackjack proposes to drill exploration holes and repair the Chief Joseph portal in order to extract 500 tons of material for metallurgical testing.
Following its initial application, Blackjack submitted an update that lowered the total number of proposed exploration holes from 37 to 35 and the number of drill pads from 12 to 10.
Drilling will occur at two sites: The Badger site is northwest of the Berkeley Pit and east of Walkerville. The Missoula site is in the open area southwest of the Lexington Mine and St. Lawrence O’Toole Church and northeast of the corner of Missoula Avenue and 5th Street.
The project would disturb about 3.54 acres. In addition to drilling and underground activities, Blackjack would use an existing road and overland travel to access the drill sites and would construct 225 feet of new road between the Chief Joseph portal and a 21,000-cubic-yard waste rock pile. All disturbances would need to be reclaimed.
Blackjack plans to determine whether there is enough silver, zinc and other metals to merit moving forward with an underground mine proposal. Combining past data and reports with the planned drilling, the company intends to develop an estimate of the quantity and quality of minerals underground.
Blackjack has said exploration would occur over two years, followed by up to two years of reclamation.
DEQ intends to issue the exploration license once a final bond is approved. An exploration license is limited to exploration projects and is not an operating permit to mine, which would require a separate and additional review process.
To view the Final EA and Decision Document, visit: https://deq.mt.gov/mining/Programs/hardrock#accordion2-collapse4