Crow Tribe-Cloud Peak agreement back on track

2013-01-15T18:38:00Z 2013-06-20T19:19:19Z Crow Tribe-Cloud Peak agreement back on trackBy SUSAN OLP solp@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

A proposed agreement between the Crow Tribe and a Wyoming energy company over the development of an estimated 1.4 billion tons of coal is back on track.

On Tuesday, the Crow Legislature voted 13-1 to approve an agreement with Cloud Peak Energy Inc. over exploration rights and exclusive options to lease and develop three coal deposits near Cloud Peak’s Northern Powder River Basin properties.

Cloud Peak issued a statement Tuesday afternoon acknowledging the tribe’s legislative action and saying a signing ceremony between the company and Crow Chairman Darrin Old Coyote “is expected to take place within the next month.”

Under the agreement, Cloud Peak Energy would initially pay the tribe $2.25 million. Cloud Peak will pay another $1.5 million once the agreement is approved by the Department of the Interior, and then make additional annual payments through the initial option period, up to $10 million.

The agreement would develop coal resources in the southeastern part of the 2.2-million-acre reservation. It was initially submitted by Chairman Cedric Black Eagle to the Legislature in August. But the body’s Natural Resources Committee wanted more time to examine aspects of the document.

Old Coyote was elected chairman in November and assumed the post in early December. His administration, with input from the legislative committee, continued to negotiate with Cloud Peak on the agreement.

Sen. C.J. Stewart, chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, said Tuesday that the tribe “worked diligently, getting it finalized to the benefit of the Crow Tribe.”

He mentioned a couple of issues the two sides renegotiated. Initially, the lease was considered a “forever lease.” The two sides instead agreed to a 15-year reopener, although the tribe has the right to seek a reopener in 10 years, if Cloud Peak agrees.

He also mentioned that Cloud Peak will provide $75,000 annually in scholarship money to Crow students, $25,000 more than originally negotiated. That amount will double to $150,000 once development of the coal begins, Stewart said.

He called the agreement “a monumental deal.”

“Being a coal tribe, a minerals tribe, this is our livelihood,” he said.

The location of the coal next to Cloud Peak’s Spring Creek mine, along with its already acquired Youngs Creek project and CX Ranch lands, will allow it to optimize its mine development, the energy company said.

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