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DEQ Releases Final Environmental Assessment on Proposed Exploration Project in Phillips County

Additional Analysis is Required Through an Environmental Impact Statement

  • Moira Davin
  • February 03 2022

HELENA—Today, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) released a Final Environmental Assessment (EA) requiring additional analysis in an Environmental Impact Statement for a proposed exploration project near Zortman, Mont. in Phillips County. The new exploration project is proposed by Luke Ployhar on private land at the site of the former Zortman Mine. The proposed project is not a full-scale mine and the operator would have to apply for a separate permit and undergo a separate environmental analysis should he wish to operate a full-scale mine.

The proposed exploration project involves excavating one trench, approximately 350 square feet and 25 feet deep, to extract a 125-ton bulk sample for metallurgical testing. The project includes construction of a 686 feet access road that would be left in place after project completion for use by the landowner. The entire project is anticipated to last approximately 10 days and disturb 0.18 acres. DEQ would require all disturbances except the road to be reclaimed.

DEQ published the draft EA for a 44-day public comment period and held a public meeting on Jan. 4, 2022 to hear comments. Neither the public meeting nor the public comment period were required for an exploration license application under state law, but DEQ used discretion to determine additional outreach was needed.

“Transparency and public participation are core values for DEQ,” said DEQ Director Chris Dorrington. “It’s important the public has the opportunity to provide comment and learn more about the proposed actions. It is also important to me that DEQ consult with tribal governments on proposals that may affect them.”

Comments on the draft EA presented DEQ with conflicting evidence from credible and potentially expert sources. This evidence raises substantial questions regarding whether significant impacts could occur to historical, archeological, social and cultural resources as a result of the proposed actions. Based on the current information before us, DEQ cannot say with certainty that potentially significant impacts do not exist, DEQ must comply with the requirements of Montana Environmental Policy Act and complete an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that will further analyze potential impacts.

“This was the right decision for this site. DEQ received comments from three Tribal Historic Preservation Officers, all of whom indicated potential serious impacts to cultural resources for the Nakoda and Aaniiih people,” said DEQ Director Chris Dorrington. “When public comments uncover substantive issues that were not addressed in our initial review, we must do our due diligence and follow the law. It was a common sense decision to require further analysis of the proposed exploration project.”

An EIS requires additional resources and the associated costs are covered by the applicant. To view the final EA including documentation of tribal outreach and comments received, please visit:

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