A Ninemile Valley gold exploration proposal has been withdrawn, leaving Missoula County and stream restoration advocates breathing a sigh of relief.
Ninemile District Ranger Eric Tomasik said the mining company that had wanted to explore for gold in the Little McCormick and Kennedy creek drainages of the Ninemile watershed had withdrawn their proposal on July 29. The two creeks are about 10 miles up Ninemile Road and flow southwest about a mile apart from each other.
Had the proposal gone through, the mining company would have dug up to 20 test trenches in two mining claims, one about 2 miles up Kennedy Creek Road and the other the same distance up Little McCormick Road. The excavated soil would have been processed in two sediment ponds.
In a letter to interested parties, Tomasik said specialists were still reviewing the Familias Doradas Gold Exploration Project when it was terminated. Because of the 1872 General Mining Law, the U.S. Forest Service can’t refuse any mining applications; it can only regulate how mining is carried out.
So even though the proposal is terminated, the company can come back and reapply at any time.
“We recognize the importance of this area to many members of the public, and the Forest Service remains an invested partner in the ongoing restoration efforts occurring there,” Tomasik said in a statement. “Should the proponent choose to pursue a minerals exploration on the mining claim in the future, the Forest Service will engage in another public process at that time.”
The area has become important to Montana Trout Unlimited because the organization and its members have spent the past six years and $4.5 million restoring the Ninemile streams to provide quality habitat for fish and other species.
That’s because mining is nothing new to the area as evidenced by piles of old mine tailings that still pollute the water. The Montana Department of Environmental Quality has identified Kennedy Creek as having water quality problems with metals. Plus, many of the streams were physically altered, so a lot of work has gone into rebuilding stream channels to make them more attractive to trout.
When Trout Unlimited members heard about the gold exploration proposal, they worried all their work might be for naught in those two drainages. That worry turned to relief with Tomasik’s announcement.
“The news that they’re not going to move forward is certainly good news for the thousands and thousands of hours of volunteer time and millions of dollars that have gone into that restoration work up there,” said Trout Unlimited spokesman Clayton Elliot.
Missoula County also had concerns about the project and questioned why the Lolo National Forest was pushing the exploration project through with minimal public input.
On Wednesday, County Natural Resource Specialist Kylie Paul saw the news of the project termination as positive.
“With all the work that’s been done and is actively occurring to restore Ninemile Creek and its tributaries from damage done in past mining operations, we appreciate that energy and efforts can focus on the continued restoration rather than new mining activity in the area,” Paul said in an email.
Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at firstname.lastname@example.org.