By Helena Dore, Bozeman Daily Chronicle
Photo via Protect The Madison Valley.
Dozens of people gathered in Ennis on Wednesday evening to voice their opposition to the proposed expansion of a gravel pit operation near McAllister during a public hearing.
The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation organized Wednesday’s hearing to gather testimony on a proposal to expand a gravel pit mine on state trust land between McAllister and Ennis, in close proximity to a Madison River tributary and Ennis Lake.
A few people supported an expansion of the mine, citing their confidence in state agencies’ environmental analyses, the revenue that the gravel royalties would generate for public schools and a desire to continue to source materials locally.
The vast majority of people opposed the proposal, sharing a wide variety of concerns. Some believed the project’s environmental analyses were faulty, and others worried the expanded activity could kick up pollutants, threaten the area’s tourism-based economy and damage archeological and natural resources.
“This is a really bizarre process. It’s quite backwards,” said Anne Hedges, director of policy and legislative affairs for the Montana Environmental Information Center. She said the process can be traced back to Montana’s previous legislative session, when DEQ’s procedures for regulating open cut operations were altered.
“Many of the prior protections that once existed no longer exist,” Hedges said. “DEQ can change a reclamation date and post mining land uses without public notice and comment. It can no longer limit hours of operation, offsite sedimentation, noise, light.”
According to Hedges, DNRC’s permit for the gravel pit doesn’t provide the necessary protections, especially since DEQ no longer has the authority to regulate mining activities to the degree that it used to.
She added that DNRC’s permit was issued before its environmental assessment was published, “meaning that many of the potential impacts are unidentified and not included… . The time to mitigate impacts is before the permit is issued.”