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Our ranch is just downstream from the Kendall Mine. Our family has raised cattle, grain and hay on this land since my husband’s grandfather purchased the ranch in the 1940s.

In the 1980s, a gold mine was permitted on the edge of our property, the Kendall Mine.

Today, they call Kendall an “old mine.” But I have children older than this mine — children that went on to get advanced degrees in things like chemistry and environmental engineering and landscape design because they saw what happened to our family and wanted to do something about it.

When they were little, the mining company told us this was a modern mine. They said we had nothing to worry about, that they had the most advanced technology and adequate bonds. They told us they would be good neighbors and not affect our water quality or quantity.

It was the same pitch mining companies make today, the same pitch they make when saying Montana doesn’t need I-186. They told us the laws were strict enough, that jobs were on the line.

Kendall was in operation for less than a decade. But its impact on the land — on my family — will last for many lifetimes. In less than six years, the lack of adequate bonding will put the cost of water treatment at Kendall on us, the taxpayers.

Aquatic life is the first to go when water is polluted. Places that used to have dragonflies and frogs are suddenly silent and sterile. Dead birds show up. Dead deer. Sick cattle.

When toxic pollution flowed down our creek they tried to buy our silence. When we wouldn’t be silent, they tried to bully us, intimidating our family with vague threats.

Soon, they turned to their army of lawyers and tried to sue us into the ground. One day a team of company lawyers toured our property. They came to the house and asked for a drink. We told them where the water came from. They declined and left the house thirsty.

Our experience is not an isolated incident. There are other stories like ours — families unwilling or unable to play David to the mining industry’s Goliath.

It is true that some laws have changed since Kendall was in operation. But it is not true that our water is safe. Montana already has miles of streams polluted by acid-mine drainage, thallium, selenium, lead, mercury and arsenic. We do not need 1 mile more.

Simply trusting that our water will be protected is not enough. We as Montanans must demand a guarantee.

I-186 is that guarantee.

We do not understand why mining companies refuse to prove their operations will not result in perpetual water treatment. We as ranchers cannot pollute, nor would we want to.

Nothing is more important than clean water. To be prosperous, farmers and ranchers must care for the land. They must place its health as their top priority.

As the neighbor of a defunct, bankrupt mine, I can tell you big mining corporations don’t take the same approach. Often, their highest priority is profit. They don’t have to think about how to keep the land healthy for the next generation and the next. If things don’t work out, they declare bankruptcy and move on.

They don’t think about those of us left behind, trying to eek out a living on a landscape scarred by irresponsible mining decisions.

Today, our water is still tested four times a year. We still raise cows and put up hay. But the long-term legacy of toxic mining pollution extends beyond time and money lost.

I will likely not see the day where my family does not have to worry about the water. My children may not see that day.

We are not against mining. Our families homesteaded here. They worked the mines — even died in the mines in Montana. Our family helped make Montana what it is today and our love for this state and this place is everlasting.

This month, we are expecting our sixth grandchild. This child will be a sixth-generation Montanan. Someday, we want to pass this ranch on to our kids and their kids. It is our sincere hope that this baby will be born into a world that recognizes the necessity of clean water.

We are voting yes on I-186 because we have seen firsthand what happens when companies are allowed to leave behind perpetual pollution. We’re voting yes because no family should have to go through that.

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Stephanie Shammel and her family ranch just downstream from the Kendall Mine near Lewistown.

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