By Derf Johnson, Scott Bosse and David Brooks, Billings Gazette
Something doesn’t sit right with an Australian CEO living in Canada telling Montanans how to best use our land and manage our resources. Yet, that’s just what Rob Scargill, CEO of Australian company Sandfire Resources, did in a recent op-ed in the Great Falls Tribune. He doesn’t know Montana’s history of failing to protect water from mining activity, so we’re hoping he listens to us now.
Mr. Scargill, you don’t have to travel far from White Sulphur Springs to see how the legacy of over-promising mining companies have saddled the state and taxpayers with contaminated water and perpetual remediation costs.
First, travel west. The legacy of gold mining in Montana’s capital, Helena, continues to haunt the community with recurring heavy metal and arsenic contamination, years after operations ceased. The community still needs to import water from different reservoirs.
From there, travel south to the Montana Tunnels mine near Jefferson City. This recently defunct operation was permitted utilizing modern bonding regulations and requirements but is now underbonded by approximately $16.5 million and counting. The highwall for the mine is in serious danger of catastrophic collapse, and Clancy Creek has been turned into a small diameter pipe, which has entirely choked off fish passage.
From there, head southwest to Anaconda. The nearby Beal Mountain Mine was an open-pit cyanide heap leach mine that operated through the ’80s and ’90s, promising jobs, full remediation, and few environmental impacts. When the company declared bankruptcy in 1997, taxpayers were saddled with costs of cleanup and perpetual water treatment for this (and other) mines. Beal tailings also pose a threat to ongoing cleanup efforts downstream in the Clark Fork River, which are focused on removing tailings contamination from a different mining operation.
Finally, head toward north central Montana until you reach the Fort Belknap Reservation. The residents there can tell you about the gold mines that have caused perpetual acid mine drainage, which contaminates their water, desecrates their land, and costs taxpayers millions of dollars. This water will be contaminated forever, because a mining company made promises they didn’t keep.