By Billings Gazette
The Fort Belknap Indian Community has sued to halt a Bozeman-based mining company from assessing whether rock at an old mine in the Little Rocky Mountains contains gold.
The lawsuit filed in Phillips County District Court claims the Montana Department of Environmental Quality erred in not consulting with the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine tribes regarding the work. Earthworks and the Montana Environmental Information Center have joined the suit as plaintiffs.
In February, the DEQ approved Blue Arc’s plan to remove 1,000 tons of rock from an exposed cliff for testing. The work would be done at the old Pegasus mine near Zortman. Pegasus Gold Corp. declared bankruptcy in 1998. The company’s bond didn’t cover the cost of cleaning up the site, leaving the state with a $100 million bill and water treatment requirements that are projected to last decades.
“Even with ongoing water treatment, that contamination has already spread to, and continues to creep deeper onto, the Reservation, including near key cultural sites and the Fort Belknap Tribes’ powwow grounds,” the lawsuit claims.
If consulted by DEQ, the tribes would have “objected to the project on grounds that it would threaten to further contaminate water sources and jeopardize the ongoing clean-up efforts from former mining endeavors at Zortman, which still plague the surrounding areas and the Reservation today,” the lawsuit says.