Group meets to discuss reclamation of abandoned mines initiative

A group of technical and resource advisors met at the Bozeman Public Library on Thursday afternoon to discuss how to proceed forward with the Missouri Headwaters Mine Reclamation Project, a regional initiative to reclaim abandoned mine sites while stimulating local economies, creating jobs and addressing mine-related safety issues.

The project will be run by a core team comprised of Monique DiGiorgio, a consultant with Common Ground Conservation, Dennis Glick of Future West, Brent Brock of the Craighead Institute and Cameron Ellis of the Sonoran Institute, as well as the Western Environmental Law Center and Madison and Jefferson Counties. A technical advisory committee was also formed to provide support for the project as it relates to the prioritization of abandoned mines, development of an overall approach between economically viable re-mining, cleaning up abandoned mines of high ecological value, best practices for mine reclamation and restoration at abandoned sites.

The technical advisory committee consists of representatives from state land agencies and the mining industry. Forest Service environmental engineer Bob Wintergerst and economic geologists Fess Foster and Alan Branham were present at the meeting on Thursday.

Madison County Commissioner Dan Happel was enthusiastic about the potential for the project, although he recognized not every site that needs to be cleaned up will be economically viable.

“I think there are some positive things that we can be doing to create both good, clean mining jobs and at the same time produce a cleanup operation,” he said.

In moving forward, the core team first plans to develop communication around the project using historic photographs to help layout the context for what the project hopes to accomplish by telling the story of Montana’s rich mining history. The next step will be to compile and analyze the existing data to determine priority areas for the project as well as the commodities that are available.

The group noted that some of the main of the obstacles facing the project include sites that need to be cleaned up but are not economically viable, as well as developing a working relationship with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

“A lot of these messes that are there, that was the norm at the time that they did it,” Happel said of the abandoned mines that dot the landscape across the southwestern part of the state. “And it wasn’t like these people were trying to wreck the environment, that was just the way of technology and mining at the time.”

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