SUSAN GALLAGHER Associated Press Writer
HELENA A coal mine proposed in British Columbia and fought in Montana as an environmental threat that could extend south of the border is being challenged by the Bush administration. The project that Cline Mining Co. Wants to develop just north of Glacier National Park could lead to environmental harm in the United States, the U.S. State Department said in a letter to the British Columbia government. Montana officials have contended the open-pit mine stands to jeopardize water quality in the transboundary Flathead area. Besides Glacier, that area includes sprawling Flathead Lake and other waters popular for recreation. The Flathead River system spans the international border, and the north fork of the river is Glacier’s western boundary. The Flathead basin is “an area of unique and internationally recognized environmental importance,” Edward Alex Lee, Canadian affairs director in the State Department, said in the Feb. 23 letter. He said the mine could cause “significant adverse environmental effects” in the United States. Kate Thompson, spokeswoman for the British Columbia Ministry of Environment, did not comment immediately on Saturday. Thompson said she intended to discuss the letter with Garry Alexander, the provincial official to whom it was addressed. Efforts to reach Cline for comment Saturday were unsuccessful. In a weekend statement, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said he is “glad federal officials are finally engaging in a big way to help us stop this mine. Montanans are rightfully worried that mining in British Columbia could have devastating consequences to fish, wildlife and our growing recreation industry in the Flathead.” Although the State Department’s letter is encouraging, Baucus said, he still is requesting the department call for an investigation by the International Joint Commission, a Canada-U.S. panel charged with preventing and resolving disputes under a 1909 water treaty. In 2005, British Columbia gave Cline a permit for exploratory work to determine whether the coal mine should be developed. Less than a year earlier, a proposal for another mine just north of Glacier was scrapped after Montana raised concerns about potential harm to water downstream. In the 1980s, a proposal for coal mining north of Glacier ended after the International Joint Commission initiated an assessment of the mine’s potential effect on Flathead water and fish. The commission found the project likely to violate the water treaty. Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer said this winter that federal intervention in the latest border-mine dispute likely would be necessary, because it appeared that efforts toward collaboration by the state and province were not succeeding.