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FOUR CORNERS — In the Simms headquarters lobby, American Rivers northern Rockies director Scott Bosse flipped open a mailbox painted with trout speckles. Inside the mailbox, which sits on a short table and isn’t visited by a mailman, were a bunch of postcards.

“Those are all going to the governor,” said Rich Hohne, communications director for Simms.

The postcards are about the Smith River, a stream well north of here, and a proposed underground copper mine there.

In December, the Canadian company Tintina Resources Inc. filed its mine operations permit application with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality for a copper project north of White Sulphur Springs near Sheep Creek, an important Smith tributary. Called the Black Butte Copper Project, the company has had its sights set on the area for some time now, and it says it won’t harm the fabled Smith River.

In a news release announcing the application, company vice president Jerry Zieg said the project would “set a new standard” for mining in Montana.

But groups liken American Rivers don’t have the same confidence in Tintina. The postcards, which they are asking people to sign, urge Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock to direct DEQ to reject the application “unless it can be shown beyond any doubt that it will cause no harm to the river’s wild quality or wild trout fishery.”

“This is a pro-Smith River display,” Bosse said. “Not an anti-mining one.”

“This is a pro-Smith River display, not an anti-mining one.”

- Scott Bosse

The display is one of three around the state, with another one in Bozeman and one in Missoula, and marks the continuation of a years-long battle against the mine by environmental groups and some businesses like Simms. They have said the Smith, a river that attracts anglers from around the country and requires floaters to obtain a permit months before launching their boat, is the wrong place for a mine.

But now that DEQ has started its review of the application, the message has shifted a bit. The emphasis is now more centered on ensuring the state gives the application a hard look, and fleshes out every possible way it could harm the Smith River.

The application is under a 90-day initial review. After that, DEQ will decide whether it needs additional information from the company or not. DEQ spokeswoman Lisa Peterson said there is no clear timeline for when the review will be completed. Tintina hopes to have the mine opened by 2020.

The company has been offering tours of the site and consistently using social media to make the case for the mine and how it will benefit the community of White Sulphur Springs.

Yet the opposition is keeping up the pressure.

Behind the mailbox and postcards is a tall photo display, showing off the limestone cliffs and trout of the Smith, and a blown up version of a New York Times travel story about the river. Behind that, windows offer a glimpse of Simms’ inner workings, as people sit at sewing machines crafting the company’s products.

Everyone on staff at Simms has taken the issue to heart, Hohne said.

“They’ve either been on the Smith or it’s on their bucket list,” he said. He added that the issue is important to the company because it depends on the survival of the fishing industry.

Diane Bristol, Simms director of community outreach and organizational development, said when Bosse approached them with the idea of setting up this display — which he calls a Smith River Action Center — they thought it was a great idea. Not only do they have about 150 employees there, she said, but “people drop in all the time.”

She estimated that about a dozen people visit the facility each day, whether it be a curious tourist or a vendor. And with that display, they can urge those people to walk behind the front desk, take in the photos, sign a postcard and stuff it in the mailbox. Bosse will return at some point and send them to the governor.

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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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