January 22, 2007

Big Canadian Coal Mine = Big Montana Problem!

This op-ed ran in the Daily Inter Lake on Friday, January 12. It is posted here by permission of the author, Dave Hadden.

To paraphrase baseball icon, Yogi Berra, the new Canadian coal strip mine proposed for the headwaters of the North Fork of the Flathead River is "deja vu all over again."

International coal mine companies first sought the coal of North Fork in 1975 with the Cabin Creek coal mine proposal. Our community coalition, the Flathead Coalition, formed that year to challenge the proposed mine's clear threat to Flathead Valley water and way of life.

More than a decade of intense public scrutiny and effort eventually killed that ill-considered project. The Flathead Coalition never disbanded. We recognized that as long as the coal remained in the ground, some multi-national mining conglomerate would come along and make another grab at it - and once again threaten our clean water.

They're back.

Now Montana faces yet another mountain coal strip-mine proposal: the Cline Mining Company's Lodgepole Coal Mine, located on Foisey Creek, a major tributary of the North Fork Flathead River. The proposal is to remove a mountain, just 22 air miles north of the border, ship out the coal and leave behind the slag heaps.

Let's not mince words or understate the threat this mine poses to our water, wildlife and way of life. If the Cline mine proceeds we Montanans, sooner or later, will have a mess on our hands.

We can look at similar Canadian drainages that have seen similar mines. If those are any indication, Montana can expect 25-times the normal level of the toxic metal Selenium in our water; pollutants of nitrates and nitrites will be off the charts; we'll have fewer, if any bull trout; wildlife habitat and wildlife migration routes will be seriously compromised or destroyed; Glacier National Park's western boundary and Flathead Lake will receive all that toxic water.

Fortunately we have - as in the past - an excellent chance to stop this Canadian mine from becoming our polluted water. But only if Flathead Valley residents unite as they have in the past to defeat this inappropriate industrial development in our headwaters.

Governor Schweitzer has demonstrated great leadership on this issue. He has met with British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell and established two teams of experts to present Montana's interests and concerns. The Flathead Basin Commission - under the Governor's executive authority - has diligently investigated the proposed mine.

The Basin Commission will hold a formal public hearing to collect testimony from Montanans on the propose Cline mine because the British Columbia won't come to Montana to do so. Please attend this hearing. Two sessions have been planned: 9-noon and 7-9p.m. on Monday, January 15, at the Red Lion Hotel in Kalispell.

The Governor has set the stage for Montanans to step up to the plate and tell British Columbia what we think about mountain-top coal strip mines in our headwaters. Let's take advantage of it.

Together we can send a strong message to British Columbia: Glacier Park, Flathead Lake and Flathead Valley cannot be put at risk.

Dave Hadden is a conservationist, president of the Flathead Coalition, and an avid boater and swimmer who raised his family near Flathead Lake in Bigfork.

Posted by nfpa at January 22, 2007 08:42 PM