A proposed Highlands gold mine got a green light from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality on Monday.
But the project is still stuck in neutral until the U.S. Forest Service decides what route ore-hauling trucks can use.
The Record of Decision issued by the DEQ represents “final approval,” said Kristi Ponozzo, Montana Environmental Policy Act coordinator.
A decision in December approved most of the Environmental Impact Statement, but additional comment sessions were held to discuss the potential plugging of horizontal mine entrances that would alter water flows into Basin Creek.
The mine still needs to post a financial bond with the DEQ before starting work. The department hasn’t yet determined the figure, which is something of an insurance policy in case the state would need to reclaim or take over operation of the mine. Ponozzo wasn’t sure when it would be determined.
The proposed underground mine has an estimated ore deposit of 200,000 ounces of gold, documents show, but mine developers believe there could be significantly more than that based on preliminary exploration. The project, located at an existing mine site established a century ago, could create about 50 jobs.
According to a Forest Service spokeswoman, the agency expects to have a draft decision on haul routes ready in mid-March. It will be open for public comment, but if there aren’t major objections, a final decision could be issued by mid-May.
Butte-Silver Bow has vigorously opposed using Roosevelt Drive as a haul route, instead preferring to use Highlands and Feely Roads.