Suit filed over tailings burial

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality and U.S. Forest Service deliberated for years over where to relocate one million cubic yards of toxic mine tailings ensconced in the earthen Mike Horse Dam located above the headwaters of the Blackfoot River. In July, they picked a piece of ground about 12 miles east of Lincoln known as Section 35, a decision that infuriated neighbors who can expect tens of thousands of truckloads of tailings to pass by their homes in the coming years. Now, in a last-ditch effort to stop the construction of a tailings repository across from their home, Mike and Barbara Grimes have filed suit.

The suit names four defendants, most notably the DEQ and Sieben Ranch Company, owned by John Baucus, brother of U.S. Sen. Max Baucus. The Sieben Ranch holds the mineral rights to the neighboring 355-acre Section 35 and has agreed to sell those rights to the state for $255,000. The sale is contingent upon tests currently underway that will determine whether or not the property is a safe location for a tailings landfill.

The Grimes' case centers on the "reserve restrictive easement" the Sieben Ranch entered into when, in 1999, it sold part of Section 35 to Geographic Investments Group, which subsequently sold the property to Stimson Lumber Company. Stimson owes the state about $300,000 for cleanup work at the Bonner mill, and offered the land to the state in lieu of payment.

The Grimeses claim the easement was one of the reasons they purchased 132 acres from the Sieben Ranch, also in 1999. The easement was intended to, according to the suit, "maintain the rural, agricultural and ranching, timber productivity, timber harvest and natural scenic qualities of the area." But the easement was terminated when the Sieben Ranch agreed to sell the state Section 35's mineral rights, a move the Grimeses argue should have required their consent.

Mike Grimes says in an emailed statement that he and his wife wouldn't be in the "pathetic situation" of suing Baucus, who he calls a friend of 40 years, had the DEQ and Forest Service been more transparent throughout the repository selection process. It's a claim the agencies have repeatedly rejected.

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