[Homestead] Two worst enemies of environment
tvoivozd at infionline.net
Sun Sep 5 13:21:02 EDT 2004
Mining and Big Timber---three if you count G.W. Bush
*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
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
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
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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