MAC/20: Mines and Communities

While the US electorate was busy deciding the future of the world last week, a more successful outco

Published by MAC on 2004-11-02

While the US electorate was busy deciding the future of the world last week, a more successful outcome was registered by voters in Montana: the cyanide ban is to stay!

Voters refuse to relax cyanide mining restriction

By Susan Gallagher, Associated Press

November 2 2004

Helena -- Montana's ban on use of cyanide technology in new gold and silver mining withstood a challenge by the mining industry in the election Tuesday.

Voters refused to reverse the ban as the industry wanted in Initiative 147. With 522 of 881 precincts reporting, the vote was 153,080 against overturning the ban voters approved six years ago, to 104,374 in favor, or 59 percent to 41 percent.

"It's a sad day for the American mining industry and the future economy of Montana," said Tim Smith, manager of a Jefferson County gold mine and member of a campaign committee that backed I-147. "The environmentalists did it again, using scare tactics."

But Paul Roos of Ovando, treasurer of a group that fought I-147, said voters made "the right decision for clean drinking water and our rivers, and for our economy."

Use of cyanide to separate gold and silver from rock may be "all right in a state where there's no water," Roos said. "It's proven that it doesn't work here."

Supporters of Initiative 147 touted it as a way to tell the North American mining industry, with its high-paying jobs, that Montana is open for business. Opponents said passage would leave the state vulnerable to catastrophic water pollution.

The few places where I-147 drew a substantial lead included Butte-Silver Bow and Jefferson counties, both of which have operating mines. With 40 of 47 precincts reporting, the Butte-Silver Bow vote was 5,012 in favor of ending the ban to 2,095 opposed. In Jefferson County, with 11 of 14 precincts reporting, the vote was 3,574 to 2,164.

The process at issue involves rinsing piles of crushed rock with cyanide, a potent chemical that percolates through the rock and draws out small deposits of gold or silver. Voters in 1998 passed an initiative banning that process.

The measure decided Tuesday stirred strong emotions in Montana and brought major financial support from Colorado-based Canyon Resources Corp. The campaign organization supporting I-147 received at least $2.2 million in cash and contributions from Canyon Resources, more than four times the contributions to campaign groups fighting the initiative.

The company wanted to develop a cyanide gold mine near western Montana's Blackfoot River, but plans came to a halt when voters passed the ban six years ago. During the campaign to pass I-147, Canyon Resources said it still aimed to develop the mine and projected 14 years of metal production, with employment spanning at least 20 years.

Among the states, only Montana banned the cyanide process, said Warren McCulloch, an administrator in the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

Three major mines in the state used the cyanide process before the 1998 ban, but with gold prices in decline they stopped mining shortly before it took effect.

Environmental problems exist in varying degrees at the three sites.

The mining industry promoted cyanide as safer than other methods of extracting gold and silver from ore, and said I-147 set forth environmental safeguards. But critics and even state officials found nothing new in what the industry billed as a safety net.

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