Mining for opposition to I-147 

Billings’ Gary Buchanan is not a Democrat and he is not a Republican. He is a fisherman.

“We’re heading out in about an hour,” he says cheerfully, of his annual Blackfoot River fishing trip. Buchanan is one of five Blackfoot fans who have formed “Save the Blackfoot VOTE NO on I-147.” The newly organized group of riparian landowners, business people and conservationists plans to fight Initiative 147, which, if approved, would overturn a voter-imposed ban on open-pit cyanide leach mining.

Petition language says that the measure “would amend Montana law to allow new mines to use cyanide leach processing.” Save the Blackfoot Treasurer Paul Roos believes that “mines” is an exaggeration.

“It’s about one mining company…it’s about one mine,” says Roos, referring to Canyon Resources and its proposed McDonald mine.

“Clearly, that is one potential project,” says Tammy Johnson, campaign manager for Miners, Merchants and Montanans, which authored the initiative. But the initiative, she says, is about the state’s mining industry as a whole. Johnson doesn’t opine as to whether Canyon should be allowed to mine at McDonald. Rather, she believes that the mine should be allowed to undergo the “rigorous” permit review process.

The McDonald mine, near Lincoln, plans to place its leach pits less than half a mile away from the Blackfoot River. While the pits’ proximity to the Blackfoot concerns the new group, its members are concerned about the financial health of Canyon Resources, too. The company, Buchanan points out, lost money its first quarter of 2004.

Canyon Resources’ CEO Dick De Voto says the company expected to file a loss. “We have expenditures on properties that aren’t yet producing,” says De Voto. And, he says, they have cash reserves.

So far, Canyon Resources has funded 97 percent of the pro-I-147 campaign, to the tune of $738,000. “Save the Blackfoot” hopes to raise $500,000 to fight it.

What the new organization must do with its money, believes Roos, is campaign with sound-bites. He’s got one of his own: “They’re trying to snooker Montana.”

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