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Mining project stirs hope and some concern in White Sulphur Spri - KTVQ.com | Q2 | Continuous News Coverage | Billings, MT

Mining project stirs hope and some concern in White Sulphur Springs

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WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS -

Mining in Montana has a long history with a reputation for causing environmental damage.

MTN News Reporter Mikenzie Frost takes a look at the Black Butte Copper Project near White Sulphur Springs to see how it could impact the community.

“You either work for a rancher or make five bucks an hour at the town pump,” White Sulphur Springs resident Dale Haley said.

While current minimum wage is a little higher than $5 an hour, for the residents of White Sulphur Springs that is the bleak reality for the small town.

Walking down Main Street is a bit quiet in downtown White Sulphur Springs, with a population of only around 900 people. But that could all change if we take a look at where the Black Butte Copper Mine Project opens, about 17 miles outside of town.

“From a county commissioner stand point, it’s going to generate a lot of taxes, property taxes, which is going to make things a lot easier for the county,” said Meagher County Commissioner Ben Hurwitz.

Tintina Resources, the company behind the mining operation, has been challenged by environmental groups who strongly oppose the mine due to the close proximity to the Smith River.

“The Smith River is far more important to Montana’s economy than the individual discussions over White Sulphur Springs,” said Montana Environmental Information Center staff attorney Derf Johnson.

But some people in White Sulphur Springs see it differently.

“We need a year-round industry, we really do,” said Hurwitz.

Once permitted and operational, the mine would provide about 200 full-time jobs. 

“We just feel that there’s an awful lot of people who need jobs,” Hurwtiz added.

The Montana Business Assistance Connection projects that the county’s taxable value would increase around $20 million. But that influx of money comes with some risks.

“The city and the county have to be careful with the revenue that is generated by this mine because, like everything, it will someday end,” said Hurwitz.

The mine is proposed to have a life of 11 to 14 years. Industries moving out of town and leaving communities with nothing is something that White Sulphur Springs is all too familiar with.

“Lost our logging industry 30 years ago, basically ruined by the environmentalists,” said Hurwitz. “Schools were full, restaurants were full, bars were full, and all that went away.”

Some members of the White Sulphur Springs community feel that this mine will be a good thing because of how Tintina has handled the process.

“Nothing hidden about what they’re doing or trying to do. That’s kept the community on their side,” Hurwitz added.

“I feel that the mine could bring more business to town, create some jobs and would just overall be good for our local community,” said White Sulphur Springs business owner Nora Bergan.

The majority of residents living in and around the White Sulphur Springs area support the project for its economic benefits, but also because they feel Tintina will mine responsibly.

“We’re not backing it just because economically feasible, we think it’s safe and we invite anyone, rather than being objecting to it on a general basis, to go look into it,” stated Meagher County Commission Chairman Herb Townsend.

During construction of the mine, an estimated 260 workers are expected to move to Meagher County and that will increase housing needs.

In 2012, housing in the county was only 54 percent full but some work will need to be done to ensure proper housing for the workers.

“I think that we’ll find is that we need a little time to bring a lot of the houses up to code so people can qualify for loans with them,” said Tintina Resources public affairs director Nancy Schlepp.

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