Claim Jumping Allegations Against AMEX MGN cont.
An investigation by Alternative One has substantiated assertions by a tiny Idaho-based mining company, Libby Creek Ventures, that it does, in fact, own the old Montanore tunnel, which runs through the company’s mining claims. LCV further contends that MMI is using licenses, permits, and approvals belonging to LCV. What’s more, LCV owners say they have discovered over-staking of their rightfully registered claims that an MMI subsidiary has registered as its own (Mines Management, Inc. vs. Arnold Bakie et.al., Lincoln County, Mont. Superior Court, DV-0 7-248, 2007, sec.49-52). In the old West, that’s what was known as claim jumping.
In 1989, before excavating the 14,000-foot tunnel towards a massive silver and copper deposit located in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, the Noranda Minerals Corporation approached a group of fourth generation, legally-registered owners of numerous unpatented mining claims located along the proposed tunneling route. Noranda made lease agreements for the use of these claims and the owners granted them an easement to traverse their properties, as shown in the legal document dated August 15, 1989. According to Frank Wall of LCV, during the 14 year period while the lease remained in effect, Noranda paid more than a half million dollars to fulfill the terms of the agreement to the owners of the claims.
However, in a June 27, 2002 certified letter, Noranda President Michael Knuckey forfeited all interest in the leased mining claims and quitclaimed the easement before abandoning the mining project. In the letter, Knuckey stated, “Noranda hereby surrenders and terminates the Mining Lease in its entirety as to all of the Property,” and, “Noranda hereby disclaims and abandons any interest under said Grant of Easement.” All property rights reverted to the original claim owners, some of whom founded Libby Creek Ventures. LVC contends that without a valid lease and easement, MMI cannot use or work the adit.
MMI has taken several tacks regarding this glaring problem. It has disputed LCV ownership of the claims in question, despite the fact that Noranda had earlier verified their ownership in the original lease agreement, and maintained the claims with annual reports to the Bureau of Land Management. In another salvo, MMI attorney Steven Ruffatto wrote in a December 1, 2005 letter, “the Mining Lease was terminated in 2002, and thus there is no continuing contractual relationship” between his client and LCV. In still another change of direction, MMI attorney J. Richard Orizotti asserted in a September 22, 2006 letter that his clients have “a valid, legal right-of-way to construct and use the Libby Tunnel.”
In July of 2007, frustrated with MMI’s continued trespass on their rights and claims, LCV matriarchs Louise Voves and Lucille Penney, then 82 and 85 years of age respectively, organized a protest outside the corporation’s Libby office. Proclaiming that MMI was pilfering mining claims that the women had owned since 1984, Voves reaffirmed their ownership of specific properties of which MMI had unlawfully assumed control, including the claim where the adit portal is located, according to the July 18 article, “Women Picket Mining Company,” in The Western News.
The article quoted Dobbs as saying, “They…have made claims that were borderlined on the absurd. We said we wouldn’t buy the claims or pay any money. We believe they have no claims that impact the Montanore project and so we wouldn’t pay.”
And yet, according to LCV spokesman and MMI shareholder Frank Wall, Dobbs subsequently offered LCV $80,000 to quiet their protests. LCV refused the offer and would not be silenced.
Charging that LCV was harming its reputation, MMI then filed suit against Voves, Penney, Wall and company in September of 2007. Once again, LCV would not be intimidated, and filed counterclaims for damages.
Court case documents show that in May, 2009 Dobbs offered a sum of $30,000 to settle out of court. According to a letter filed by LCV’s Arnold Bakie, settlement terms that restricted LCV to paying the Montanore crew for any exploratory work, and gave MMI first right of refusal on any ore LCV found were unacceptable. The group declined Dobbs’ offer.
As of November, 2011, the case remains active in Lincoln County District Court. A Libby Creek Ventures victory would revalidate their ownership rights, bar MMI from working the adit and, according to Frank Wall, effectively pull the plug on MMI’s mining operation.
The government agencies working with MMI since 2005 on the mine permitting process have repeatedly refused to review these critical legal issues that call into question the corporation’s ability to access and extract even one ounce of ore from the Montanore deposit.
Malcolm Edwards, Kootenai National Forest District Ranger, in a letter to Frank Wall dated October 18, 2006, says “If Mr. Wall or LCV contend that there is an issue with respect to ‘rights’ under the mining law… the Forest Service does not adjudicate such issues.” Instead, the agencies continue to waste considerable federal and state tax dollars annually on furthering a project that may have been unfeasible, both from a legal and economic standpoint, from the start.