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Inland Northwest News 

& & by Pia K. Hansen & & & &

& & Rock Creek flap & & & &

SANDPOINT, Idaho - The Rock Creek Alliance and four other environmental groups have sent a letter to Robert Castaneda, supervisor of the Kootenai National Forest, accusing him of jumping the gun in the process which may lead to the granting of permission for the Rock Creek Mine. The Alliance is upset about Castaneda's statements last month, when he said the Forest Service would say yes to the mining permit.

"Castaneda's comments indicate that the Forest Service has already made up its mind to issue a permit for the Rock Creek Mine," says Mary Mitchell, executive director of the Alliance. "For the Forest Service to be indicating that they will say yes even before the final EIS is completed is not only premature but illegal."

But Castaneda says the Alliance misunderstood what he was trying to get across.

"All conditions need to be approved, both on a federal and a state level, we alone can't make a decision," he says. "But if all state and federal laws can be complied with, then I don't have the authority to say no to the permit."

ASARCO mining filed the application for a permit to mine for silver and copper beneath the Cabinet Mountains, east of Noxon, Mont., 13 years ago. But the final Environmental Impact Study (EIS) and the Record of Decision have still not been completed.

"There are many reasons for that taking so long," says Castaneda, "but if we get all our numbers from the fish and wildlife services, we may be ready to come out with the EIS early next year."

The mine would tunnel under the Cabinet Mountains and discharge wastewater into the Clark Fork River and Lake Pend Oreille every day. The Clark Fork River was recently named as one of the nations most endangered rivers.

In case the final permit is granted, Castaneda says he's uncertain the mine will begin operating. "I feel certain a decision to grant the permit will be challenged and we will end up in court."

& & New CEO at Avista & & & &

SPOKANE -- Avista Corporation has replaced its Chief Executive Officer Tom Matthews with longtime officer Gary Ely, who has been with Avista since 1967. Ely has worked both in marketing and gas supply within the company prior to his promotion to senior vice president in '96. Last week he became the new CEO.

Since '95, Ely has also managed Avista's hydro production and construction, transmission and generation engineering, as well as rate and regulatory matters.

Avista has had a tumultuous year. In June, the company reported second quarter losses of $126 million, and Matthew offered to resign.

Matthews went to the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission in September asking for rate increases but didn't get nearly what he asked for. The WUTC denied the company's request for a 10 percent rate hike on electricity, allowing only a 1.4 percent raise and a 2.4 percent raise in natural gas prices.

After that, Matthews offered to resign again, and this time he was let go by the board.

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