As a hunter and fisherman who has lived in the Upper Clark Fork River Valley between Deer Lodge and Anaconda for over 30 years, I can attest to the damaging legacy of mining on our waterways. In 1908, a massive flood carried toxic tailings from Butte to the Clark Fork River, contaminating the river and the floodplain. To date, hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent cleaning up this toxic mine tailings at Butte, Silver Bow Creek and the River. For 30 years, I have worked with local citizen groups to fight for proper contamination clean-up, and after all this time, the clean-up is nowhere near being done.
What I have learned over the years is that the best way to clean up mining contamination is to prevent it in the first place. Governor Gianforte and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) have a chance to do so and save potential millions in cleanup costs if they apply the Bad Actor Act to a former executive in Pegasus Gold Corporation, as is their job.
Pegasus Gold’s Beal Mountain mine is about 20 miles southwest of where I live, near Anaconda, as the crow flies. This open pit cyanide heap leach mine ceased operations in 1997. A year later, Pegasus Gold declared bankruptcy.
Now, the Forest Service spends $ 350,000 of taxpayer dollars each year to alleviate Pegasus’ poor cleanup work at the now defunct Beal Mountain mine. They have to pump and treat water from the abandoned mine heap, which contains cyanide compounds and metals. The pile, which continually fills with water, must be pumped to remove the toxic water buildup and ensure that it does not result in a catastrophic release of contaminants into German Gulch Creek.