Ballot measure targets mining waste

Johnathan Hettinger -
Friday, June 8, 2018


With two pending mines in Paradise Valley, Sweetwater fly shop owner Dan Gigone has seen a lot of local support for protecting the Yellowstone River.

So he wasn’t surprised when a new ballot initiative that would strengthen regulations on mining has already surpassed its needed 25,000 signatures to get on the November ballot and is well on its way to its goal of 40,000 signatures.

The signatures must be gathered by June 22.

The initiative — I-186 — would prohibit mines that require “perpetual treatment” of acid-mine drainage or other “contaminants” leaching from the site.

“This is important to me as a small business owner that relies on clean water for my livelihood,” Gigone said.

Gigone has done his part.

Gigone hosted a signature gatherer training event at his shop and plans to have volunteers taking signatures at a party at his shop next weekend. The Protect Paradise Bash, which will have free barbeque from Follow Yer’ Nose in Emigrant, will take place 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on June 16. David Brooks, executive director of Trout Unlimited, which is sponsoring the initiative, said that the legislation is modeled after laws in Michigan and New Mexico, and many currently operating mines in Montana meet the higher requirements, showing it is possible for mines to meet the higher restrictions and still operate.

“This isn’t about shutting down mines,” Brooks said.

All currently operating mines will be grandfathered in, as well as any expansions of those mines, Brooks said.

Overall, there are more than 200 abandoned mines polluting Montana water. The worst of which is the Zortman Landusky mine near Havre, which has cost taxpayers $27.5 million since it closed in 1998 because it will require perpetual treatment for acid mine drainage.

In May, the Montana Mining Association asked the Montana Supreme Court to declare the initiative “legally” insufficient. The initiative, which as currently written would go into effect immediately, would require rule-making to define “perpetual treatment” and “contamination” and any initiative requiring rule-making cannot take effect until Oct. 1 of the next year after the approval. The association argued that this error makes the initiative invalid.

However, Brooks said the opponents of I-186 are doing anything they can to try to stop the initiative because they realize how popular it is. Brooks said the initiative’s opponents are trying to stop it at every level because they realize how popular it is with regular people.

“Our opponents are doing everything possible to keep this away from the public,” Brooks said. “They are afraid the public understands the importance of this initiative.”

The Livingston-based Park County Environmental Council is helping organize for the measure.