Mine cleanup not a taxpayer expense, for now

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Dear Editor,

In a recent letter to the editor on ballot initiative I-186, I made a statement that taxpayers are providing over $2 million annually for cleanup of polluted waters at Zortman and a mine in the North Moccasin Mountains. In a rebuttal, Jim Volberding, Kendall site manager, replied, “No taxpayer dollars are involved. None. Zip. Nada”.

So I’ve spent some time researching this issue.

What I found is, taxpayers are paying about $2 million annually for cleanup of polluted waters at Zortman, but no taxpayer money has been spent at Kendall. Mr. Volberding is correct, so far. The following are the details of what I learned.

This information is from the Department of Environmental Quality, the agency that oversees mining operations, and can be confirmed in their reports or at https://www.greatfallstribune.com/story/news/local/2016/06/03/deq-seeks-gold-mine-cleanup-funds-via-bankruptcycourt/85374492/.

In November 2015, Atna Resources Inc. and affiliates filed for bankruptcy in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. At the time, their reclamation bond was valued at about $2.3 million. As part of the final Kendall closure plan, DEQ recalculated the amount needed to complete up to 40 years of water treatment, and requested additional funding of $6.2 million dollars. DEQ’s request was not granted. Apparently the court deemed it improbable to collect money from bankrupt mining companies.

Presently, DEQ estimates it costs $360,000 per year to clean polluted waters at the Kendall mine, and they expect the bond to run out in about five years, far short of what’s needed.

What happens after that? No one knows. Will the DEQ be successful in obtaining funds to continue the cleanup? If so, will it most likely be taxpayer money, or will the landowners downstream from the mine be forced to contend with their situation?

Mike Getman




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