Yes for Clean Water – MTU Sponsors Ballot Initiative

In our last alert we explained why Montana Trout Unlimited supports a ballot initiative filed with the Montana Attorney General’s office that will allow Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to reject mines that plan to pollute Montana waters forever.  We supported the original language of the initiative with the understanding that currently permitted mines would be exempt from this regulation. The initiative intends to amend the state’s mining laws to require a new mine to demonstrate that it can be reclaimed without the need for perpetual water treatment.  It gives DEQ the necessary tools to protect Montana taxpayers, future generations and our clean water, while allowing for responsible mineral development. 

Why is this initiative important?

According to a 1995 report from Montana DEQ, Montana has 276 abandoned mines that present significant risk for water pollution. Trout Unlimited analysis of Montana DEQ and EPA data found that Montana has 9,380 miles of streams that are listed as impaired for heavy metals or acidity.

This initiative seeks to prevent future problems and protect Montana taxpayers who have been saddled with the cleanup and treatment costs after mines close. Zortman Landusky Mine has cost taxpayers $26 million already with another $2-3 million each year for ongoing water treatment. At Beal MountainMine, taxpayers have already shelled out over $13 million for clean up and they continue to pick up the bill for ongoing water treatment.  

Concerns from the mining industry and modified language

 On April 8, 2018 the Montana Standard ran an editorial that asserted the ballot initiative, as proposed, would spell the end to operations by Montana Resources in Butte and Golden Sunlight Mine near Cardwell.  Montana Resources also warned its employees that they would be out of a job if the initiative passed.  It has been our position that the ballot initiative language clearly excludes currently permitted mines. 

In an effort to clarify, modified ballot initiative language has been submitted and is going through the approval process.  We want to ensure that when Montanans vote ‘Yes’ on this initiative to hold mining companies accountable and protect our clean water, it is perfectly clear that existing mines and their employees will not be affected.

What exactly is “EIS scoping”?

Before a mine can start moving minerals an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) must be completed.  The first step in the process is scoping.  Scoping is the initial process of determining what issues should be studied in the EIS.  Public comment is an important part of the process.  As part of the scoping process, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) will hold public hearings which provide the public the opportunity to tell DEQ what should be included in their analysis and why it should be included.

Potential scoping topics for the Black Butte Copper Project

  • The Wild Fishery of the Smith River Basin: DEQ should evaluate the baseline conditions of the Sheep Creek and Smith River wild and native trout fishery. The Tintina project has the potential to dewater and contaminate both surface water and groundwater connected to the Sheep Creek tributary, and then to the main Smith River.  There is clear evidence that wild trout, and potentially some native fish species, use Sheep Creek extensively for spawning and as a cold water refuge during low, warm water conditions in the Smith.  There is also clear evidence that during their life-cycle, trout migrate between Sheep Creek, the Smith River, and the Missouri River. In addition, during periods of low water, Sheep Creek is the largest source of clean, cold water to the mainstem river, which is vital for the health of the entire Smith River fishery all the way to its confluence with the Missouri River. Considering that impacts to water quality and quantity in Sheep Creek are a concern for the fishery all the way into the Missouri, there must be a thorough baseline study of this extensive, at-risk fishery. DEQ should include and rely upon Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, Region 4 fishery biologists and managers in the EIS analysis.
  • Jobs and Economic Growth in Outdoor Recreation:  In evaluating the possible negative impacts to water quality and quantity associated with Tintina’s mining proposal, DEQ should seriously consider the hit this would cause to a significant portion of Montana’s robust and growing tourist and outdoor recreation economy.  Tourists spend at least $350 million annually in Montana on fishing, which is at the heart of the state’s $7 billion per year outdoor recreation economy.  That economy generates over 71,000 Montana jobs.  Around 7,000 people float the 60-mile permitted stretch of the Smith River annually, with the hope of connecting to a part of Montana that is still wild. The fact that the Smith is the only permitted river out of Montana’s many amazing rivers makes clear how valuable it is for our recreation and tourist economy.  Economists have determined that fishing on the Smith River alone contributes up to $10 million annually for Montana’s economy, and that doesn’t include other recreational, agricultural and tax benefits it generates. These are indefinitely sustainable dollars, and they benefit real people and real jobs that would be lost if the river is degraded. Outfitters who have worked for over twenty years on the Smith River have collectively employed hundreds of guides and other staff.  Add to these careers the cost taxpayers might have to foot to clean up a big spill, or to keep toxins from leaking in the future, and it becomes a high price to pay. Unfortunately, the citizens of Montana will assume all the risk, while the corporate boardrooms of Tintina’s owners in Perth, Australia and New York City reap the rewards.
  • Water Quantity in Sheep Creek and the Smith: The Smith River and Sheep Creek already suffer from low flows during most years, putting pressure on downstream water users and preventing the fishery from reaching its potential. Tintina plans to pump large volumes of groundwater in order to keep the underground tunnels dry during mining. This could alter flows in Sheep Creek and other streams that rely on that groundwater for a portion of their flows. DEQ should evaluate the potential impacts to Sheep Creek and the Smith River from reduced flows as a result of mine activities.
  • Water Quality in Sheep Creek and the Smith: DEQ should evaluate the potential long-term impacts to water quality in the Smith River watershed from acid mine drainage because the Tintina Project is a sulfide deposit.  When sulfide minerals are dug up and exposed to air and water, they can react to form acid mine drainage, which is toxic to fish and other aquatic life.  Once acid mine drainage develops on a large scale, it is impossible to stop, and it can continue for hundreds of years – requiring expensive long-term treatment.  DEQ’s analysis of acid mine drainage potential for this mine proposal should include evaluation of mine tailings, which will require isolation from air or water to safeguard against leaching toxins.  Other mines in Montana that have developed acid mine drainage have caused lasting damage and cost taxpayers tens of millions in treatment costs. DEQ should also evaluate the potential water quality impacts of other harmful metals, such as arsenic.
  • Potential Massive Expansion of the Mine: While Tintina has portrayed their project to Montanans as a relatively small and underground mine, they have simultaneously been acquiring the mineral rights to a very large tract of land directly adjacent to the proposed mine. These mineral rights are located both on private and public land, and stretch from the proposed mine site to within a couple of miles from the Smith River, and cross over several other tributaries to the Smith and Sheep Creek. Tintina is on record claiming that the “upside” of the project, or the long-term opportunities, is a 50-year mining district, that would ultimately turn the western side of the Little Belt mountains into an industrialized zone. The company currently maintains over 500 mining claims on public land totaling more than 10,000 acres surrounding its Black Butte site.  DEQ must, as part of the EIS process, consider the secondary and cumulative impacts associated with the expansion of the mine.

Public Hearing Schedule

  • Monday, October 30, 2017 – Great Falls Civic Center, 2 Park Drive South, Great Falls, MT
  • Wednesday, November 1, 2017 – White Sulphur Springs High School Gymnasium, 405 South Central Avenue, White Sulphur Springs, MT
  • Monday, November 6, 2017 – Radisson Colonial Hotel, 2301 Colonial Drive, Helena, MT 
  • Tuesday, November 7, 2017 – Park County High School Gymnasium, 102 View Vista Drive, Livingston, MT

All meetings are scheduled from 6-9 p.m.  Stay tuned for information on ride share and bus transport option.

Giving a Voice to Rivers

Joe Newman spent two months this summer at Camp Baker, the public put in to the Smith River, educating people about the proposed copper mine that threatens the health of the Smith River watershed. Read about his experience Giving a Voice to Rivers.

MTU Tip of the Hat – Let’s out do 2016 on July 22, 2017

In 2016 generous Montana Guides and Outfitters (40 of them!) pulled together and donated their tips for one day, and raised more than $3,500 for conservation IN MONTANA. Let’s break last year’s record and raise even more for conservation projects on the rivers we love to fish. Nobody knows the rivers like the conservation-minded guides and outfitters on them everyday.

Participation is SUPER easy. Let Kelley @ MTU know via a quick email ([email protected]), text: 608.225.2779, or voicemail: 406.543.0054. We’ll mail you a pre-paid, addressed envelope to send in with your tips. We’ll feature you on MTU’s website, and send your name to our 4,500 members in Montana.