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Battle over I-186, the mining/water-treatment measure, hits $3 million

HELENA – With just five weeks until election day, about $3 million has been raised and spent in the battle over Initiative 186, which says new hard-rock mines can’t be approved in Montana if their cleanup plan requires “perpetual treatment” of water from the mine.

Opponents, led by the state’s mining industry, have put about $2 million into their campaign, while supporters of I-186 have contributed nearly $1 million.

The supporters of I-186 also have asked TV stations to pull one of the opponents’ ads, arguing that it falsely says I-186 would mean “zero future mines” if its passes.

“The initiative does not preclude new mines,” wrote David Brooks and Tom Reed, co-chairs of the I-186 campaign. “Rather, it precludes mines that would require perpetual water treatment that could end up costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.”

Yet an attorney for opponents of I-186 told TV stations on Tuesday that the ad is neither false nor misleading, and accurately states that the initiative, if passed, will be used to block future mines.

William Mercer said I-186 language that defines “perpetual treatment” of water is purposely vague, allowing supporters to influence rules that will be devised to enforce the new law.

Campaign ad opposing I-186

“The mining industry fully understands that proponents (of I-186) and their allies will use the ambiguous language to stop future development of mining in Montana,” he wrote. “One thing is clear: The people behind the initiative are opposed to mining in Montana.”

The mining industry in Montana is funding almost the entire campaign against I-186, contributing $2.1 million of the $2.13 million spent or raised through the end of September.

The Montana Mining Association has made $1.87 million in direct donations to the anti-I-186 campaign and MMA and five mining companies with Montana operations have contributed another $228,000 of “in-kind” donation of services.

Those companies are Golden Sunlight, which operates a gold mine north of Whitehall; Montana Resources Inc. of Butte; Sibanye Stillwater, which operates a platinum and palladium mine west of Absarokee; Hecla Mining, which is proposing two copper and silver mines near Libby; and Sandfire America, which is proposing a copper mine north of White Sulphur Springs.

Brooks, the executive director of Montana Trout Unlimited and co-chair of Yes for Responsible Mining, the committee supporting I-186, says most of the money supporting the opposition is from out-of-state or foreign mining corporations.

Backers of I-186 preparing to submit petition signatures

Sandfire and Golden Sunlight are owned by Canadian firms; Stillwater is owned by a South African company. Hecla is headquartered in Idaho.

Dave Galt, spokesman for Stop I-186 to Protect Miners and Jobs, told MTN News it should come as no surprise that mining companies are bankrolling the opposition to a measure they believe will harm the future of their business.

“All of them are very, very concerned about this, or they wouldn’t be putting the amount of money into it,” he said. “They have a lot of money invested and they’re trying to protect their livelihood.”

The backers of I-186 have raised or spent about $960,000 on their campaign. About one-fourth of that money was spent on the effort to qualify I-186 for the ballot.

The pro-I-186 campaign has some big individual donors, such as $260,000 from various Trout Unlimited organizations and $100,000 from David Leuschen, a billionaire investor from New York who is a Montana native.

But it also has more individual donors than any other ballot committee in Montana this year, including scores of people from Montana and more than 30 other states.

Brooks said conservation groups have gotten the word out to their members and that people likely have been reading about I-186 in the media, and want to protect Montana rivers and streams.

“Montana streams and rivers really resonate with a lot of people who come here and hope to come here,” he said. “These are people donating to a cause where their only return on investment is clean water for the future.”

Mike Dennison

Mike Dennison

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