(Editor’s note: This letter was previously attributed to Tom Reed of Trout Unlimited in error. Read Tom Reed’s letter here.)
To the editor:
Not just one, but many, rivers run through Montana. They are the arteries that nourish and bring life to our state’s cities and towns.
Montana’s communities depend on these waterways to provide safe and healthy drinking water for our wells and municipal water systems, and to irrigate our fields.
And, more and more, our rivers and streams fuel our local economies, putting Montanans to work, bringing visitors to our restaurants, hotels and stores, and creating new opportunities for local investment.
Much of the economic growth that many Montana communities have experienced in recent years wouldn’t have happened without our famed rivers and the high-quality of life they reflect. They are what help draw new businesses and workers to locate here, and why so many of us stay.
In short, Montana communities run on clean, natural water. And, as mayors of Montana communities, we want to ensure this resource continues to run strong for generations to come.
This is why we support I-186, the Yes for Responsible Mining Initiative, which will be on state ballots this November.
I-186 is a Montana solution to a Montana problem: the issue of hard-rock mining waste. Too many times in our state’s history we’ve learned the hard way that some irresponsible, out-of-state industries love us only for our resources and, once those have been harvested, have no problem in quickly pulling up stakes and leaving us here to contend with their mess.
The toxic legacy of irresponsible hard-rock mining continues to plague Montana’s landscape, rivers and streams. It also continues to cost our state millions of dollars each year in continued cleanup of contaminated sites and polluted water.
Examples include the Zortman-Landusky Mine in Phillips County, which cost $27.5 million to clean up and where perpetual treatment of waters costs Montana taxpayers $1 million to $2 million each year. Meanwhile, toxic runoff from the Upper Tenmile Creek Mining Area contaminated Helena’s well water and threatened the city’s municipal water supply. Treatment of this water costs Montanans millions and will never end.
At the Beal Mountain Mine in Silver Bow County, selenium pollution threatens cutthroat trout and an estimated $13.7 million in public funds has been spent for mine cleanup and water treatment. At the Mike Horse Mine in the Upper Blackfoot, 26 million gallons of acid mine drainage must be captured and treated annually. Altogether, more than 2,500 miles of Montana streams are contaminated with hazardous mining waste.
We know that mining has contributed much good to Montana’s history, and that it can be done right, without permanently polluting our streams. Mines such as the Stillwater mine near Billings and Montana Resources in Butte are important mainstays of Montana’s economy, and will not be impacted by I-186.
Currently, Montana has no way to deny a permit to a proposed mine that will pollute our rivers with toxic waste, such as lead, arsenic, mercury and acid mine drainage. I-186, which is similar to laws passed in Maine, Michigan and New Mexico, will change this. It will prevent new hard-rock mines that threaten to permanently pollute our rivers and streams. And it will hold mining companies accountable for cleaning up after themselves.
The measure is about accountability and commonsense, two things we value in our Montana communities. I-186 won’t affect existing mines or the expansions of those mines, just any hard-rock mines proposed in the future.
Our clean water is too precious not to protect. Our children, businesses and communities depend on it. Let’s preserve it for generations to come. We hope you’ll join us in saying YES for responsible mining and I-186.
This letter was signed by the following Montana mayors: Bob Kelly, Great Falls; Wilmot Collins, Helena; John Engen, Missoula; John Muhlfeld, Whitefish; and Deputy Mayor/Mayor Elect Chris Mehl, Bozeman.