By Martin J. Kidston
Fearing a repeat of history, a Helena-based environmental group has asked the Department of Environmental Quality to order the immediate cleanup of an exploration site once opened as part of the McDonald gold project outside Lincoln.
Bonnie Gestring of the Montana Environmental Information Center, said that because of McDonalds financial and legal woes, the company could declare bankruptcy before beginning reclamation work on the site, which has been abandoned since 1998. If reclamation work is left untouched due to bankruptcy, McDonald would fall in line with several other mining companies who have filed for bankruptcy and left reclamation work incomplete.
The Zortman-Landusky mine filed for bankruptcy, Gestring said. They had a reclamation bond in place, but it was inadequate to cover the costs of cleanup.
Gestring also mentioned the Kendall mine outside Lewistown which, like Zortman, went bankrupt and couldnt cover the reclamation costs. Gestring blames the pattern of bankruptcy and abandonment on the low price of gold and the DEQs poor enforcement.
The problems associated with reclamation and enforcement is becoming very apparent with the decreased value of gold, Gestring said. These operations become inviable operations when gold prices are low, and many have closed because of that and are now going through the reclamation process.
However, several mines, such as Kendall and Zortman, have opted for bankruptcy as opposed to cleanup. Gestring said that another company known as Canyon Resources has gone as far as to offer its mining claims to the state as collateral for cleanup costs. But according to the law, the state cannot accept the deal, even though Gestring said the offer is being considered.
The state is prohibited from accepting any assets that would devalue over time as surety for reclamation, Gestring said. These mineral claims clearly fall under that category, as weve seen the prices of gold fall over the past couple of years. In essence, what the state is opting to do, is act as a pawn shop for mining companies.
In place of accepting mining claims as collateral for reclamation costs, Gestring said the state should require bankrupt mining companies to sell their mineral rights and assets in order to raise money to pay the state for costs associated with mine waste cleanup.
Gestring said Canyon Resources possesses nearly 900,000 acres of mineral claims, all of which it is offering to the state as collateral for its inability to pay the costs of cleanup.
Its completely inappropriate, Gestring said. Its a problem with the DEQ allowing inadequate bonding for reclamation, and their habit of favoring industry over the citizens of Montana and the environment.