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For the second time this year the state has asked the company planning to develop a copper mine near a tributary to the Smith River to revise its application.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality sent Tintina Resources, the company developing the Black Butte Copper Project north of White Sulphur Springs, a letter telling the company that it needs to add information to its mining application. Among other things, the letter said the application is missing data on hydrological modeling and final results from tests of the potential for acid mine drainage

Tom Livers, the director of the DEQ, said in a statement that the geochemical testing and hydrological modeling “are important aspects to determining completeness of the application and compliance with state law.”

Tintina originally submitted its application for a mining permit in December 2015, and in March the DEQ sent them their first deficiency notice. The company resubmitted its application in September, and DEQ responded formally Thursday saying the application was still insufficient.

Tintina spokeswoman Nancy Schlepp said the second letter wasn’t a surprise and that they see it as a step forward in the process.

“We expect them to be extremely thorough,” Schlepp said.

Derf Johnson, a staff attorney at the Montana Environmental Information Center, said the deficiency letter shows that Tintina has yet to prove that its mine won’t harm the environment.

“I think what this demonstrates is that Tintina still has a long way to go in showing that their mine is not going to impact Sheep Creek and the Smith River,” Johnson said.

The Black Butte Copper Project is about 17 miles north of White Sulphur Springs on private land near a stream called Sheep Creek, which flows into the famed Smith River. Environmentalists and angling groups have raised concerns that the copper mine could damage water quality in the tributary, which provides spawning habitat for trout in the Smith River.

Tintina rebuts those claims, saying their mine, which would be built underground, would use techniques that wouldn’t harm the environment and won’t sully Sheep Creek or the Smith.

The latest deficiency notice runs 53 pages and lists discrepancies and missing information in the company’s several hundred-page application and appendices. It highlights missing data on geochemical testing and hydrological monitoring as major concerns. Geochemical testing is meant to show the potential for acid mine drainage to occur while hydrological modeling is meant to show what impact the mine will have on surface and groundwater.

DEQ identified the two needs in its March letter but still feels what Tintina provided is insufficient. Its most recent request for more information on hydrological monitoring centers on “void spaces” the mine might leave underground, like the entrance and ventilation shafts.

Their request for more geochemical information asks for the final results of testing the company is already doing to be incorporated into the application. Those tests look at the makeup of the rocks Tintina will be working with and what chemicals will leach out of them and their potential to produce acid, which can be devastating for water quality and is a major worry for opponents of the mine.

“They need to test essentially how quick and how much this stuff will acidify over time,” said Bruce Farling, the executive director of Montana Trout Unlimited.

Schlepp said they feel like the major problems with the application that were identified in March were resolved and that this second letter identifies simple details that they need to work out. Their response to the March letter took six months, but she expects this response to be simpler.

“I think this will be a much quicker turnaround,” Schlepp said.

Kristi Ponozzo, DEQ’s public policy director, said the company’s response in September made their application more clear, but they think the company still has a ways to go.

“There’s still some key issues that need to be resolved and some key information that we need to get that full picture,” Ponozzo said.

Once the application is resubmitted, DEQ will begin an environmental review of the project.

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Michael Wright can be reached at mwright@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2638. Follow him on Twitter @mj_wright1.

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