By HDN staff
After more than 100 years of poor mining practices, things are changing for the better. Were getting cyanide mining operations out of our backyards, the pollutants out of our rivers and streams, and the state senate out of our voting process now, the only thing left to be done regarding that die hard initiative known as 137, is to tell the mining companies that the 1998 ballot measure banning cyanide mining was for real the voters meant what they said.
The history of this bill has been a controversial one, dating back to November, 1998, when I-137 made its electoral debut. It passed the majority process and became law, banning open-pit cyanide heap and vat leach mines forever and for good reason.
One look at the Upper Clark Fork River Basin in the Deer Lodge Valley is enough to know that mining companies of the past made their profit to the detriment of the environment. With the buildup of heavy metals throughout the river basin, vegetation and wildlife is sparse, and even under the best remediation process, returned growth is not guaranteed. Because of damages sustained to the natural environment in this area, the state was award more than $200 million a minor compensation for an environmental disaster inferior only to the Exxon-Valdez oil spill.
And there are other areas in the state to be remembered, such as the Zortman-Landusky Mine south of Malta, the Kendall Mine near Lewistown, and the Beal Mine near Anaconda. The scars from these operations will be lasting, but with the passage of I-137, they should be history at least one would think.
After the passage of I-137 in 1998, the mining companies moved to have the measure thrown out, claiming it was unconstitutional. Their move failed. Next, mining lobbyists wooed several senators who attempted to reverse the democratic process by ignoring the will of the people and reversing the 1998 vote. As a result, several bills were introduced, such as SB-344, which would repeal I-137, and SB-343, which would place it back on the ballot for the next election.
While SB-343 failed in the Senate Natural Resource Committee, SB-344 survived so to speak. Although it left I-137 intact, the powers that be decided to place it back on the ballot, and now, voters will have to prove their position once again that theyre tired of the mining industrys claims of using safe practices, only to find that when the mine closes and the resources are extinguished, an environmental disaster remains, and the taxpayers carry the burden.
We feel its time to move away from the resource-based economy that has crippled our state, and its time for the voters to tell the mining industry where our priorities stand that our environment is more important than its profit. If mining efforts prove successful and I-137 is eventually defeated by special interests, cyanide mines will begin dotting the Montana landscape. The Big Blackfoot Project, along with the McDonald Gold Mine are already proposed outside Lincoln, placing a threat on the Big Blackfoot River one of Montanas most pristine and legendary systems. The Chartam Project waits in the wings outside Winston, and Maltbys Mound outside Norris.
Its a shame that the public vote means so little and profit can silence over 50 percent of the population. But the real travesty it all happens at the expanse of our environment.