Smith River

The Smith River winds through 59 miles of craggy canyons in the Little Belt Mountains east of Helena.

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The company planning to build a copper mine near a Smith River tributary has resubmitted its application, a move that comes about six months after state environmental officials said it was insufficient.

Tintina Resources Inc. resent its application to develop an underground copper mine north of White Sulphur Springs to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality in response to a 60-page deficiency notice the company received in March. The company said in a news release that the core of the application remains unchanged, but it added that responding to the issues pointed out by DEQ made it stronger.

“Our application is now more comprehensive because of the excellent questions posed by the DEQ,” John Shanahan, Tintina’s CEO, said in the release.

DEQ public policy director Kristi Ponozzo said the agency would review the new application over the next 30 days and decide whether all the issues have been resolved. If they have been, DEQ would begin work on an environmental impact statement, a study that precedes its decision on whether to issue a permit for the mine.

Tintina, a Canadian company partially owned by Australian investors, plans to build the Black Butte Copper project about 17 miles north of White Sulphur Springs near Sheep Creek, which flows into the Smith River. Environmental groups have lined up in opposition to the mine, saying it could harm the Smith River, a prized fishing and floating destination. Tintina maintains that the operation poses no risk to the Smith River.

Tintina applied for an operating permit in December 2015. In March, DEQ sent the deficiency notice to the company that listed issues ranging from misspellings to missing data.

Opponents of the mine also hired consultants to review the application and sent a report to DEQ and the company pointing out what they saw as additional flaws in the application.

“There were a number of things that DEQ didn’t point out that we think were deficient,” said Bruce Farling, the executive director of Montana Trout Unlimited. The additional issues included missing data on groundwater, surface water and the way the company plans to dispose of its tailings.

The company’s executives told the Chronicle on Monday that they addressed some of the issues raised by mine opponents, including drilling more groundwater wells and gathering more data on the connection between surface and ground water. But, they said, they are required to answer and resolve questions raised by the DEQ, not necessarily those of their opponents.

“We gather as much data as we possibly can and we’re really guided in this process by the DEQ,” Shanahan said. “We’ve got to satisfy their needs.”

Scott Bosse, the Northern Rockies director for American Rivers, said the technical experts would be called upon to comb through the revised application, but he doesn’t think Tintina can allay their concerns.

“I don’t think there’s anything Tintina can say or do to convince us that this mine won’t pose a threat to the Smith,” Bosse said.

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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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