Pony Mining, Mine Reclamation, and Stormwater Pollution

Public Meeting in PonyA week ago we attended a public meeting in Pony, Montana, concerning mining activities and public and environmental health concerns.

You might remember from a previous blog post (click here) that we’ve been working with local Pony residents to better understand exactly what type of industrial activities are occurring in the hills behind Pony, and qualify their impacts to local landscapes and waterways.

Local citizens reached out to us with concerns that existing mining and/or reclamation activities were not being adequately tracked, that industrial trucking was changing the character of local roadways, and that activities as a whole were degrading local environments and waterways. These most recent concerns came from a backstory where a town with a long history of mining was told that one, two-year operation was planned (starting in 2012); fast-forward to Fall 2014 where locals are learning of several on-going operations, and more large-scale operations planned for next spring and summer.

Put another way, there appeared to be no holistic understanding of what was authorized, what was planned, and how local community and waterway health was being protected. Thus the public meeting of late October.

Part of the urgency here is the fact that several large, polluting tailings deposits from abandoned mines sit behind Pony. Some can be economically recovered, others not. Some of the larger abandoned mines sites are exposed to the elements and, when precipitation events occur, toxic tailings, sediment and who knows what else gets flushed into local creeks. Likewise, when mining operations build new roads, or remove and crush old ores for profit, those earth-moving activities have the potential to likewise discharge into local waterways. However, we couldn’t find any documentation showing that appropriate stormwater permits are being issued to protect local waterways and community health.

What we took away from the meeting confirmed our suspicions that the State and federal land management agencies have not, until recently, been proactive in holistically assessing small mining projects, or in ensuring appropriate Best Management Practices are in place to protect local water quality. The lack of government transparency, accountability, or enforcement concerning mining operations, clean water and community health protections has led to unnecessary confusion and frustration in this small town.

Our role here is quite simple: to ensure decisionmakers are performing their mandatory duties to holistically assess impacts, that agencies are aware of and taking into account local concerns and acting on documented instances of pollution, and ensure that industrial operators obtain required permits – particularly stormwater permits – to protect local headwaters and groundwater.

Keep tuned as we continue to work with local citizens to ensure that local waterway and community health is protected – done, as always, by informing and engaging the grassroots, by using best available science to guide decisionmaking, and by insisting on compliance with the law.

Read a first Bozeman Chronicle story on the public meeting here, and a second follow-up story from the Montana Standard on the same public meeting here.