Mines Management reported that Records of Decision (ROD) approving the development of the Montanore mine were issued by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ). The agencies’ decision approves the project as outlined in the Joint Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) previously announced during December, and provides a path forward for development of the project.
The conditioned approval amends the existing state hard rock operating permit to conform with the provisions of the RODs, issues the Certificate of Compliance permit for the electrical transmission line and the Air Quality Permit for construction and operation up to 20,000 tons per day (t/d).
“We have crossed the goal line. The Record of Decision is the major approval to complete the final evaluation and development of the project contingent upon compliance with its conditions. We are excited to have completed the 11-year permitting process that included two draft Environmental Impact Statements and at least three rounds of public comment,” said Glenn M. Dobbs, chairman and CEO, Mines Management.
The Montanore deposits were discovered in the 1980s and explored by previous operators at a cost of more than $100 million, which ceased in the 1990s when metals prices were low. Since acquisition of the Montanore in 2002, Mines Management has spent more than $75 million on dewatering and partial rehabilitation of the 14,000-ft decline, construction of site infrastructure, revised and updated resource estimates and a Preliminary Economic Assessment (PEA), as well as re-permitting the entire project.
Mineralized material within two zones is estimated at 81.5 million tons with grades of 2.04 ounces per ton silver and 0.75% copper. Mineralization is open in several directions, and a third zone of mineralization has been identified, all of which the company believes have the potential to expand the resource. An independent PEA published in 2011 describes an underground bulk-mining scenario utilizing conventional crushing and flotation processes, which would extract a high-quality concentrate for sale to smelters at low underground mining and processing costs. Initial throughput of 12,500 t/d is projected to produce more than 6 million oz of silver and 50 million lb of copper annually, with potential for expansion up to a permitted capacity of 20,000 t/d.
The Montanore project, as currently permitted, includes more environmental protections than what was originally approved in 1993, so extra measures will be taken to protect wildlife and water resources. Other individual permits and authorizations will be issued following the RODs in accordance with their processes and timelines. These would include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Section 404 permit for the tailings impoundment required by the Clean Water Act, MPDES permit and issuance of water rights.
The company will pursue various avenues of financing, and strategic business combinations to advance the project through evaluation and feasibility, and development of the project.