New mining concessions in Zortman push for investigation
The Fort Belknap Indian community and conservation groups say a 48-hour lapse after decades of mining concession bans allowed Bozeman-based Blue Arc LLC to stake 10 new mining claims.
Tuesday, October 19, 2021
By Amanda Eggert
Montana Free Press
The Indian community of Fort Belknap and three conservation groups are asking the Home Ministry’s Inspector General’s office to investigate the cause of the ministry’s failure to maintain an ore withdrawal – a regulatory tool that prevents Federal agencies to approve new mining claims – in effect at the Zortman – Landusky reclamation area near the Fort Belknap reserve. Following a 48-hour gap in protections on October 5 and 6, 2020, 10 new mining claims were filed in an area still struggling with acid mine drainage clean-up that cost more than $ 77 million to this day and is expected to continue for generations. “We deserve an explanation,” FBIC Chairman Andrew Werk Jr. said in a press release regarding the petition. “Whether the failure of the ministry to properly implement the shutdown is an honest – albeit reckless – error or the result of intentional misconduct, the consequences are enormous for the health and well-being of our people. With such high stakes, we must have a responsibility.
In the 1980s and 1990s, 2.5 million ounces of gold were mined from the Zortman and Landusky mines by cyanide heap leaching. In 1998, the owner of the mines, Pegasus Gold, filed for bankruptcy, leaving federal and state agencies with a massive cleanup effort. Due to ancient gold and silver mining operations, the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine tribes are grappling with surface and groundwater pollution as well as metal pollution in the Lesser Rocky Mountains in north-central Canada. Montana for over 20 years. In the complaint, the groups argue that given the research and planning necessary before a person or company can stake and file a mining claim, it is suspicious that Bozeman-based Blue Arc, LLC may have taken advantage the 48-hour window between the expiration of the old order and the establishment of a new one to stake out the 10 new claims. In 2000, to facilitate ongoing reclamation work, the Home Office issued a five-year order preventing entities from filing new mining claims on the site’s 3,530 acres of public land. After three successive five-year extensions, the department was preparing to issue a 20-year ore withdrawal to take effect in October 2020. But because the notice of the 20-year order was published in the Federal Register three days after the expiration of the previous 5-year order, there was a two-day gap during which new mineral claims were not prohibited. The Federal Register is a government logbook where rules, proposed rules, and decrees relating to federal agencies are publicly reported.
Billings native Amanda Eggert covers environmental issues for MTFP. Amanda is a graduate of the University of Montana School of Journalism and has written for Outside Magazine and Outlaw Partners. At Outlaw Partners, she edited the cover of the bi-weekly Explore Big Sky newspaper. Contact Amanda at [email protected]
Note: This story originally appeared on Montana Free Press. It is published under a Creative Commons license.