By Michael Heins
FORT BELKNAP AGENCY The Gros Ventre and Assinioboine Tribes have reached another milestone in the effort to ensure the abandoned Zortman and Landusky Mines are responsibly reclaimed.
The Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) agreed to develop a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) for the mines in the Little Rocky Mountains of North Central Montana.
The DEQ and BLM agreed to complete the SEIS in a meeting with Fort Belknap Indian Community Council Friday.
"We will do a supplemental environmental impact statement," said DEQ director Mark Simonich. "We have listened, have heard your pleas to us very clearly and recognize that it would not be either in our best interests or the tribes or anyone else's best interest to try to stand firm and say no we don't need to do a EIS. The regulations, conditions have changed and we need to step in."
Local grassroots groups Island Mountains protectors and Red Thunder along with Fort Belknap Tribes have urged the DEQ and BLM to reconsider their 1998 record of decision regarding final reclamations of the mines. The Interior Board of Land Appeals nullified the BLM's 1996 and 1998 record of decision and ordered the BLM to consult with the Fort Belknap Indian Community Council on reclamation plans.
"It's better late than never, they should have done it (SEIS) a year ago," said Kenneth "Gus" Helgeson, president of the Island Mountain protectors.
The Fort Belknap tribes will continue to work with the DEQ and BLM concerning the scope of the SEIS to ensure that responsible reclamation take place at the mines. The Gros Ventre and Assiniboine tribes continue their commitment to see that the Little Rockies are fully reclaimed, not only for us, but for our neighbors in Zortman and Phillips County and all Montanans.
The Gros Ventre and Assiniboine continue to be concerned about the health and welfare of community members living in Hays and Lodge Pole as well as surrounding communities of Zortman and Landusky.
The Fort Belknap tribes believe all Montanans must have access to good quality drinking water, free of contamination.
A technical working group of professionals in mine evaluations and reclamation fields was formed to participate in a Multiple Accounts Analysis (MAA) process to evaluate various reclamation options. The group includes: scientists, engineers, and other members from the Fort Belknap Tribes, DEQ, BLM and the Environmental protection Agency (EPA).
The group has participated in the collection of current data from the mine site during the past year. Based on that data the group has evaluated the various reclamation options for the mine site in terms of technical, cost, environmental and socioeconomic objectives. The MAA evaluation optimizes the reclamation options possible with the available bonds, and evaluates the benefits of additional reclamation measures if additional funding becomes available.
Full reclamation to address water quality and other impacts from the mine could cost in excess of $125 million. With existing reclamation and water treatment bonds approximately $60 million is available.
The Fort Belknap Tribes have started a campaign to secure additional funding for reclamation with the support of DEQ, BLM and EPA.