BOZEMAN, Montana — Montana environmental regulators intend to review about 940 public comments and decide within three weeks whether to approve a proposal to dig test wells at the site of a planned copper mine near White Sulphur Springs.
A Tintina Resources subsidiary plans to apply for an operations permit for the Black Butte mining project, but first is asking state regulators for permission to drill four wells to test how pumping water for the mining operation will affect the groundwater table.
The planned mine has prompted concerns from environmental groups that the project will degrade water quality and possibly decrease the amount of water running through the watershed to the popular Smith River.
The comments were received after the Montana Department of Environmental Quality released an environmental assessment on Tintina's proposal to pump water for 30 days to learn how quickly the water table drops.
DEQ spokesman Chris Saeger said officials plan to make a decision within two or three weeks because the company wants to complete the wells before winter, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle (http://bit.ly/1nULQIC) reported in a story published Wednesday.
Tintina vice president Jerry Zieg said he worked closely with DEQ officials on the plan and it would be remarkable if they turned it down.
At least one of the wells is expected to pass through rock that contains amounts of arsenic that could exceed federal drinking water standards. Tintina plans to dispose of that arsenic-laced water by lightly sprinkling it over 40 acres of land so it would evaporate before reaching any surface water or groundwater.
Environmental and conservation groups cast doubt on that plan.
"There's a high likelihood that it won't work, which means the company would potentially violate Montana's non-degradation water quality standard," Bruce Farling of Montana Trout Unlimited said.
Others said the arsenic-laced water should be treated, and the Montana Environmental Information Center gathered 370 signatures for a petition asking the DEQ to require Tintina to do so.
"There's viable, affordable technology out there that they can use," center spokesman Derf Johnson said.
Information from: Bozeman Daily Chronicle, http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com