[Homestead] Two worst enemies of environment

Tvoivozhd tvoivozd at infionline.net
Sun Sep 5 13:21:02 EDT 2004

Mining and Big Timber---three if you count G.W. Bush


*washingtonpost.com* <http://www.washingtonpost.com/>
*Gold in Montana Hills May Not Be In the Ground*
Famed River Threatened by Mining

By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 5, 2004; Page A03

LINCOLN, Mont. -- The waters of the Blackfoot River mesmerized and 
haunted Norman Maclean, who fished in the river all his life and 
celebrated its mysteries in "A River Runs Through It."

Montana voters approved an initiative six years ago that was to have 
forever protected the Blackfoot from a proposed cyanide open-pit gold 
mine near the river's headwaters.

But because of another initiative, which was proposed and is being 
bankrolled by a Colorado mining company, Montanans will be asked on Nov. 
2 to remove those protections. If it passes, Initiative 147 would remove 
the 1998 ban on cyanide heap-leach gold mining, a process that the 
Montana Department of Environmental Quality says has sullied the state 
with water pollution problems that will continue in perpetuity.

The fight between mining and environmental interests is likely to be a 
doozy, and not just because Maclean's classic story of the river (and 
Robert Redford's 1992 movie based on the story) sanctified the Blackfoot 
as a temple for fly-fishing. The vote is also shaping up as a contest 
between two larger stories about what it means to live in the Rocky 
Mountain West.

The story championed by Canyon Resources Corp., the Golden, Colo., 
company that wants to build the huge gold mine on the Blackfoot, harks 
back to Montana's past, when fulfilling manifest destiny and finding a 
good job depended on resource extraction -- particularly the mining of 
gold, silver and copper.

Backers of this narrative are promoting the mining initiative this 
summer at Kiwanis Club meetings and county fairs as a tradition-rich way 
of reducing unemployment and increasing state tax revenue. At fair 
booths, paid supporters of Initiative 147 invite children to try their 
hand at panning for gold.

"There is mineral wealth in Montana, and citizens want a balanced 
economy that keeps children from moving out of state," said Richard H. 
De Voto, president of Canyon Resources, which has provided 97 percent of 
the $1 million spent so far to promote the initiative.

The company has outspent its opponents by 395 to 1, campaign records 
show. Both sides said the company could spend an additional $3 million 
to $4 million to advertise its initiative, a large sum in a state with 
917,000 residents. That much money will buy a lot of local television 
time. In Billings, the state's largest media market, 30-second 
television ads during prime time cost $900.

The other story in the mining fight asks voters to wake up to the 
economic realities of modern Montana.

It is a state where, according to federal figures, retiree income 
amounts to three times the combined personal income from mining, 
logging, ranching, farming and oil and gas extraction.

This New West narrative says there is nothing more important to 
Montana's economy than protecting natural amenities, such as the 
Blackfoot, that lure wealthy newcomers to the state.

"This mine on the Blackfoot is threatening the very future of Montana," 
said Jay D. Proops, a retired multimillionaire from Chicago and a 
river-loving newcomer who in 1996 bought an enormous cattle ranch that 
runs for six miles along the banks of the Blackfoot. "This river has 
brought a vast amount of clean recreational industry into the state. 
That holds a lot more promise than trying to mine microscopic particles 
of gold out of a whole mountainside."

At the proposed mine on the Blackfoot, gold would be extracted from 537 
million tons of low-grade ore and treated with cyanide, a poison that, 
in theory, is kept out of surface and groundwater by using large plastic 
liners. In practice, mining experts say, the liners almost always leak.

Mining was once a driving force in Montana's economic life, but now it 
is all but insignificant, according to economists who study the Rocky 
Mountain West.

Hard-rock mining amounted to one-half of 1 percent of state income in 
2000, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Commerce. Those 
figures also show that mining contributed 0.2 percent to net state 
income growth over the past three decades. In that time, 56 percent of 
growth has come from retiree earnings, such as dividends, interest and 
pensions. Retiree money is fueling a sustained boom in home construction 
and service industries.

Between 1970 and 2000, the number of mining jobs in the state (a 
category that includes hard-rock, coal and oil and gas) fell by 728, to 
a total of 6,597. Over those 30 years, service and professional 
employment jumped by 210,926 jobs -- accounting for 81 percent of job 
growth in Montana, according to the Commerce Department.

"The engine of growth has been recreational opportunities, scenic 
characteristics and wildlife," said Thomas M. Power, chairman of the 
economics department at the University of Montana in Missoula. "To 
threaten this engine with a mine on the Blackfoot is nuts, from an 
economic point of view."

Yet, Power has concluded, many Montana voters tend not to focus on the 
economy when they make public policy decisions. Instead, he said, they 
"look in the rearview mirror at an economy that no longer exists."

"There is a mythical and cultural component to these decisions that has 
folks buying into a fantasy of what life under the Big Sky is all 
about," he said. "White-collar workers make cultural connections with 
industries such as mining that are part of the past, and they see 
themselves as rugged individualists."

The power of the extractive myth, judging by electoral results and the 
public positions of leading state politicians, is still potent. When 
Montanans voted in 1998 to ban cyanide heap-leach gold mining to protect 
the Blackfoot, the margin of victory was four percentage points. Montana 
Gov. Judy Martz (R) said this year that she supports the initiative that 
would lift the ban on cyanide mining.

Canyon Resources indicated that its polling shows that Montanans are 
open to rethinking the ban.

"This is an economic issue," said De Voto, president of Canyon 
Resources, noting that the mine would create 300 jobs for at least 14 
years. "There is a billion dollars that would be spent in Montana over 
the life of this one mine and $100 million in royalties to the state 
school system."

De Voto said that the mine would have no adverse environmental effects 
on the Blackfoot, where in recent years federal, state and private 
sources have committed more than $100 million to protect the river, its 
tributaries and surrounding land. "We will have zero impact on that 
river, zero," he said.

Mining experts and state regulators said they are skeptical.

"Even with the very best engineering and design, you simply cannot make 
any guarantee that there would not be contamination from cyanide mining, 
especially in a place like the Blackfoot Valley, where the groundwater 
is so close to the surface," said Jim Kuipers, a mining engineer and 
private consultant who managed a large cyanide mine in Nevada.

"In Montana, we haven't seen a single case where there wasn't damage to 
ground and/or surface water," Kuipers said.

A case in point is the Kendall gold mine near Lewistown, Mont., which 
closed in the 1990s and is still owned by Canyon Resources. State 
regulators say the cyanide mine has polluted streams and groundwater and 
that the company has a long history of being obstreperous in 
negotiations about cleaning up its mess.

"It has been very frustrating dealing with Canyon Resources," said Jan 
Sensibaugh, director of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

She said the company has refused to pay for state-mandated environmental 
impact studies and is now rushing ahead with a poorly conceived cleanup 
plan that does not have state approval.

Alan and Stephanie Shammel own a 4,000-acre cattle ranch downstream from 
that mine. They say their groundwater was polluted in 1995 by cyanide, 
arsenic and selenium discharges from the mine's waste rock. Canyon 
Resources addressed that problem by installing pumps that have since 
dried up natural springs on parts of the ranch.

The Shammels say they are struggling to keep their ranch operating and 
that they have had to sue Canyon Resources for loss of water and 
pollution of the water they still have. "We will need water-quality 
treatment here for at least 100 years," Stephanie Shammel said.

She said she believes Montanans should be wary of Canyon Resources and 
its assurances for the future of the Blackfoot River. "Based on what we 
have seen, I think they are going to pollute that whole valley," she said.

De Voto, when asked about such criticism, said his company has done a 
responsible job at its mine near Lewistown and will do an even better 
job of protecting the Blackfoot River.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company

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