Late summer and fall 2015 saw the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service authorize further mining and reclamation behind Pony, MT. The authorizations allow for two more years of work up the Pony Cr drainage, and a short-term project up the Cataract Cr drainage.
We’ve been working with local members in the town of Pony to better understand the scope of mining operations and options available to mitigate negative impacts. Over the past three years local residents have seen enormous increases in industrial trucking through the small town, extensive new road construction and “improvement” of old jeep tracks, and of course the negative landscape changes that accompany industrial operations in headwater mountains.
The ostensible goal of recent work has been reclamation of old mine dumps; old mine tailings have the potential to oxidize and pollute local headwater creeks upstream of the town of Pony. Reclamation isn’t totally altruistic; current mining techniques also allow a fair profit margin by reclaiming those tailings at the Golden Sunlight Mine.
Unfortunately, many concerns of local residents – like safety, landscape impacts mitigation, dust control, and local water quality protection – aren’t being fully addressed by government authorizations. The complicated landscape of mining laws essentially means that government can’t stop a rightful holder of a mining claim from reclaiming or mining, but they can condition such operations. However, the conditions are largely discretionary and are hard to enforce once operations have ceased.
Likewise, since the major road – Pony Creek Road – was officially transferred from federal to county ownership in 2013, federal land management agencies are even more circumscribed in their ability to address local citizen concerns.
While both the BLM and USFS authorizations appear to have ignored many concerns and not properly analyzed the cumulative impacts of the related decisions, taking the agencies to court won’t stop the projects, but only result in forcing the agencies to admit to previously ignored impacts and issue new paperwork documenting the impacts. Sadly it appears the meaningful opportunity to significantly influence – or stop – these projects passed when they began 3 years ago.
Moving forward we are committed to helping local citizens stay abreast of any new proposals and ensuring that the public is heard, and that meaningful conditions are put in place that protect local creeks, drinking water, and human health.