Open letter to Mayor Engen: Here’s the rest of the story about I-186

These are three of the water-storage ponds on the site of the Zortman-Landusky Mines. (Lange Containment Systems Inc.)

To: Mayor Engen and the City of Missoula

From: Matt Vincent, President of Rampart Solutions, LLC, and former Chief Executive of Butte-Silver Bow City-County

Dear Mayor Engen:

I hope this letter finds you well. I read the editorial you recently signed along with four of your mayoral colleagues, urging readers to vote in favor of Initiative 186 at the polls this election season. While I certainly respect every individual’s right to their own opinion, I saw the exact same editorial, verbatim, published in another, smaller newspaper under the signature of Tom Reed with National Trout Unlimited.

This led me to wonder if you and the others had been asked to sign this letter without knowing the entire background of its content, or the context in which it was going to be presented. Therefore, the nature of my letter is to provide you – and your council members and constituents – with “the rest of the story.” I respectfully ask you all to read and consider this before voting.

Missoula is a key hub to Montana’s outdoor recreation and tourism economy, and I am in full agreement that our clean water in Montana is “too precious not to protect.” As a former environmental educator, board member for our local Trout Unlimited chapter and as a professional who has worked in the field of environmental restoration and remediation for the past 20-plus years, I understand this as much as anyone.

Not unlike your city, Butte is capitalizing on its easy access to our fabulous public lands, outstanding scenery, famous fisheries and our limitless trails in order to market our livability to outdoor recreation enthusiasts and businesses. In fact, we’ve recently added “Basecamp Butte” alongside our Mining City moniker to focus marketing of our city for its “other” natural resources as well.

Likewise, responsible mining and the businesses that support the industry today play a massive role in the communities in which these mines are located. In Butte-Silver Bow alone, Montana Resources, one of the companies under the Missoula-based Washington Companies, contributes around 25 percent of our government’s general fund budget and over $200 million in economic output to southwest Montana.

Taxes and other inputs to our state economy are significant even outside of the mining communities. A recent report completed by the University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research (BBER) shows that hard rock mining contributes over 12,000 jobs and $2.73 billion to Montana’s economy, including $200 million in state taxes and revenues each year.

Alongside mining, Montana’s outdoor recreation economy claims an annual economic output of $7.1 billion. Consider that half of this amount comes from Montana residents recreating in-state, many of whom make their living from mining. Members of these mining families also regularly travel outside of their communities to places like Missoula to spend their money on goods and services unrelated to outdoor recreation, like when visiting students at University of Montana or attending football games played at Washington-Grizzly stadium.

In fact, through the millions of dollars donated by the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation, the University of Montana enjoys a significant amount of impact, thanks in part to the mining industry. Mining might not immediately spring to mind when you think of Missoula, but it is clearly part of Montana’s fabric and culture – past, present and hopefully the future too. To that end, today’s mining regulations in Montana definitely look to the future, not the past.

Environmentally, much has changed with respect to the mining industry over the past two decades. Every single example of a contaminated mine presented by the proponents of I-186 in their campaign as a reason why the initiative is necessary is outdated and simply non-applicable to the way things are done and regulated today. Zortman-Landusky. Beal Mountain. Mike Horse. Ten Mile. All of them.  

Coming from the nation’s largest Superfund complex and home of the Berkeley Pit, trust me when I say that I completely understand the term “perpetual treatment.” I am in full agreement that Montana needs to hold mining companies accountable for cleanup. Again, trust me: WE DO.

The facts are that in 2018 Montana has some of the most progressive and protective mining regulations in America, if not the world. A dozen or more environmental regulations, financial safeguards and measures of corporate responsibility have been passed into law to ensure messes like Zortman-Landusky, Beal Mountain and the Berkeley Pit don’t happen again.

Unfortunately, the I-186 proponents fail to recognize this reality in any of its messaging. They want to mislead voters into believing that we haven’t learned our lessons, and that places like Maine, Michigan and New Mexico have it better than we do. Aside from the fact that most of us here in Montana don’t want to become like Maine, Michigan or New Mexico, none of this is true.

Please consider:

  • The same mines that bonded for $59 million in 1997 now have bonds that have increased to over $300 million in 2017. Why? Because it’s a requirement that every mine’s reclamation bond be reviewed in detail a minimum of every five years to make sure the cost of cleanup and long-term management is fully covered by the companies. Montanans WON’T be left holding the bag if a mine goes bankrupt.
  • The letter you signed states, “Currently, Montana has no way to deny a permit to a proposed mine that will pollute our rivers with toxic waste.” This is completely untrue. In this day and age NO INDUSTRY is allowed or permitted to pollute, period. Montana has water quality standards that all mines must adhere to – just like every other state. In fact, Montana has some water quality standards that are even MORE stringent than the federal limits, making sure that our waters remain the cleanest in the nation. None of Montana’s existing hard rock mines are allowed to pollute water currently, and none will be allowed to do so in the future.
  • Lastly, Montana’s economy and its communities enjoy a responsible balance that most other places do not. Our mining industry currently contributes over $2.7 billion/year and supports over 12,300 jobs; outdoor recreation and tourism claims an economic output of $7.1 billion and 71,000 jobs – all of this exists today, WITHOUT I-186.

To leave these important facts out of the conversation on I-186 is irresponsible, misleading and inaccurate, and the proponents should be held accountable for their messaging. Montanans know what’s best for Montana and a “NO” vote on I-186 will insure that thousands of Montana families in our mining and rural communities are able to continue mining responsibly in the 21st century. It will guarantee Montana residents of the $200 million in annual revenue provided to our state and local budgets. And it will guarantee we can all continue to reap the enjoyment and benefits of the multi-billion-dollar outdoor recreation and tourism economy, half of which is generated by our fellow Montanans enjoying our spectacular way of life.

Thank you, mayor, council members and citizens of Missoula for your consideration of these facts and positions. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have or to come provide more information if you choose. In conclusion I hope you can reconsider your stated position on this initiative for the sake of Montana’s mining and rural economies AND for the best interest of all our state’s residents – including Missoula – and VOTE “NO” on I-186.

Sincerely, Matt Vincent