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Montana Trout Unlimited

Public turns out big to save the Smith River

Smith supporters, Helena DEQ hearings.

Thank you to all our members and supporters who stood up for protecting the Smith River from a risky mine in its headwaters.  Whether you attended one of the four public hearings or wrote comments to the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) about the threats the Black Butte mine poses to the many water quality and quantity, fisheries, and recreational values of the Smith River, your voice made a difference.  When MTU first pressed for more than one public hearing on this matter, DEQ countered that there wasn’t enough interest.  We let the department know that if it didn’t hold additional hearings, we would.  We pressed the Governor’s office about the need for wider public input and reiterated this need to DEQ on several occasions.  In addition, we engaged two business partners – Simms and Yellowdog Outfitters – to advocate that the state hold more hearings to allow outdoor recreation businesses, like theirs, to fully express the need to protect the Smith River.  Our persistence paid off, and the DEQ responded with additional hearings.  The hearings DEQ added in Great Falls, Helena, and Livingston each drew large, lively, well-informed crowds.  DEQ was inundated with more than 10,000 oral and written public comments.

With the release of the DEQ’s report on this robust public comment, it appears the department has heard the wealth of concerns for the Smith River’s protection.  Although a very restrictive Montana law, drafted and backed by the mining lobby, which the 2011 Legislature passed, shackles the DEQ with a one-year deadline to complete an environmental impact statement covering all the possible risks of a proposal like the Black Butte mine, MTU will continue to monitor the department’s review process closely.  We expect every stone to be overturned in evaluating how this mine will put the Smith River and its fishery in harm’s way.  If the DEQ sticks to the short timeline for its review, the public will have another, very important, opportunity to comment on the fate of the Smith River early next summer.  So, in addition to marking your calendar for possible Smith River float days, be prepared to make some more noise on its behalf.  We’ll keep you posted.  Check www.smithriverwatch.org or Montana Trout Unlimited on Facebook.

David Brooks

Winter 2018 Trout Line