Guest opinion: Listen to voters: Leave cyanide ban alone

2011-03-25T00:00:00Z Guest opinion: Listen to voters: Leave cyanide ban alone

By STEPHANIE and ALAN SHAMMEL‌

The Billings Gazette
March 25, 2011 12:00 am  • 

My family has spent four generations in Montana, farming and ranching for a living. I’ve learned one thing for sure: Montana is a special place and Montanans are special people.

So why do some politicians in Helena act as if the will of Montanans is meaningless? Over and over again Montanans have said no to open-pit cyanide leach mining. Now, Sen. Terry Murphy, R-Caldwell, has introduced a bill that will undermine the will of the voters and open the door to additional cyanide leach mining.

Montanans were right to pass an initiative against this type of gold mining in 1998, and by an even larger margin in 2004. This mining method has harmed hardworking ranch families like mine.

We ranch our family place 18 miles north of Lewistown. We have recently been joined by our son and daughter-in-law. We’re immediately downstream from the Kendall Mine, a cyanide leach gold mine that polluted the streams and groundwater in four drainages. Our family has been dealing with this nightmare for over 20 years. Ultimately, we were forced to file a lawsuit that lasted seven years to mitigate damages and prevent future damage. When this lawsuit was finally settled we thought our ranch was protected. We also supported the ban on cyanide leach mines so other ranchers and farmers would not have to face the kind of problems we have.

These mines are not only a burden on families like mine, but on taxpayers as well. The Zortman-Landusky, Beal and Basin Creek Mines have all caused severe water pollution, and taxpayers are paying millions in clean-up costs.

Senate Bill 306 under consideration by the Legislature would authorize new open-pit gold mines as long as the cyanide processing occurs at mines that were operating in 1998. The bill proponents say that it is intended to clarify that the Golden Sunlight Mine near Whitehall can accept old tailings from historic mines, something the mine has already been doing. That’s not a problem, and not the issue. The bill does far more than that. It’s a backroom deal by the mining industry to create a loophole that would reauthorize mines like Kendall and allow other open-pit mines to be developed. It’s still cyanide leach mining, even if the open pit and cyanide leaching facilities are in separate locations.

We’ve been through all this before. The majority of voters in 32 of 50 senate districts voted to protect taxpayers and downstream landowners from this type of mining.

From time to time, our representatives in Helena need to hear from us. They need to hear that Montana voters expect to be heard. Please contact your legislators and tell them to vote no on SB306.

Alan and Stephanie Shammel ranch near Hilger.

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