HELENA (AP) - A bill that creates a special trust fund to pay for long-term treatment of water contaminated by the defunct Zortman-Landusky gold mines has won tentative approval in the House.
A final vote on the measure was expected today.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder, directs nearly $1.5 million a year to a special trust fund, interest from which would pay for water treatment well into the future. Water treatment currently underway is funded only until 2018.
The two gold mines, located on the southern edge of the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, closed in 1998 when the parent company, Pegasus Gold, filed for bankruptcy. The company had posted a bond that was inadequate for long-term water treatment, leaving the state with much of the cleanup costs.
The reservation's Assiniboine and Gros Ventre tribes have long contended that the mining, using a cyanide heap-leach process now banned in Montana, took place without an adequate environmental review. Now, they say, acid-mine drainage has left them with a water mess on the reservation that threatens to linger for generations.
Under the bill, which won tentative approval Wednesday on a 67-32 vote, the trust fund would be established by July 1, 2006, and earnings on the money would be retained until 2018. Beginning in that year, the interest would be available for water-treatment expenses. Money for the trust would come from payments the federal government gives Montana for mineral production on federal lands in the state - payments that ordinarily enter the general fund, state government's main operating account.
Windy Boy, who brought a similar bill to the 2003 Legislature, where it failed, said Wednesday he was pleased with the House's vote.
Windy Boy's bill is House Bill 379.