During the 2017 legislative session there was a missed opportunity to benefit Helena and all of Montana. Representative Jenny Eck introduced a bill to add space to the Montana Historical Society’s facilities. As most know, the Society has limited space to show only a small percentage of its artifacts. Representative Eck’s bill would have addressed that shortage. Moreover, it would have provided for a construction project in excess of $40 million dollars along with all of the jobs and related benefits. The improved facilities would have allowed thousands of Montanans to visit Helena, view the additional artifacts and help boost our economy. Unfortunately, the bill failed to pass late in the session.
Despite these obvious benefits to Helena, no resolution supporting the bill was passed by our City Commission. Rather, our City Commission has focused its attention on passing resolutions opposing the Cuban trade embargo, supporting the Paris Climate Accord, creating transgender bathrooms and essentially opposing the proposed underground Black Butte Copper Mine in Meagher County near White Sulphur Springs. Whether one supports or opposes the proposed mine is not the issue. The issue is that the resolution essentially opposing the mine was placed on the City’s work session agenda before any Commissioner took or made the effort to visit the mine site to educate themselves as to the potential impacts of the mine. Eventually, one Commissioner took the tour. The mine offers tours periodically and anyone interested can take it. I did and learned that it is an underground, not a pit mine. While on a tributary to the valued Smith River, it is located approximately 19 stream miles from the Smith. Most water encountered in the mine will be used in the milling process and any excess will be treated with reverse osmosis and placed back underground through a buried infiltration system; furthermore all water used will be completely mitigated with irrigation rights purchased further upstream for instream flow. It is not anticipated that any surface water will be discharged to the tributary of the Smith.
The mine permit application was not yet complete and the legally required environmental impact statement which analyzes the potential impacts of the proposed mine had not been published at the time the resolution passed. The Montana Department of Environmental Quality is charged with evaluating the potential impacts, both positive and negative, and preparing the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). It has not yet been completed. As public officials representing Helena’s interests, the Commissioners were obligated to educate themselves on the issues prior to taking a position. A tour of the proposed mine would have certainly helped in that regard. The completed mine permit application and published EIS would have been of more help. Neither the completed permit application nor the impact statement was available at the time that Commissioners Haladay, Ferris-Olsen and Noonan voted in favor of the resolution essentially opposing the mine. Proponents might say that the resolution didn’t specifically oppose the mine, but its intent is clear. Not only was the vote premature but the resolution was wholly unrelated to the proper functioning of Helena’s city government. And the result I am told is that many individuals and businesses no longer shop in Helena.
While the Commissioners, and some Helena residents, may have personal interest in these various topics, they are not remotely related to the operation of the Helena city government. They will have the opportunity to comment on the permit and EIS when published, preferably as individuals and not on behalf of the City. We now have the opportunity to refocus the Commission’s actions on things that actually benefit the citizens of Helena, like streets, fire and police service and our long ignored infrastructure. I urge you to vote and support Mayor Jim Smith, Sean Logan, and Mark Burzynski in the upcoming election. I have met with these gentlemen and am convinced that they will bring proper focus to our government.
Founding Member of Prickly Pear Land Trust
Chairman, Helena’s First Open Space Bond Committee
Former Commissioner of State Lands
Former Director of The Department of Natural Resources and Conservation