JUNE 1997

 

JUNE 1997 FULL ISSUE

MOUNTAINS OF TREASURE, RIVERS OF SORROW

By PAUL KOBERSTEIN

LINCOLN, Montana - Montana's Blackfoot River meanders westward from the Continental Divide, through a wide sweep of verdant meadow and ranchland, toward the Clark Fork River and Missoula. It's eerie to drive through the heart of this valley, to Lincoln, where the Unabomber allegedly hid out. But that's not the half of it.

On two knobby buttes known as McDonald Meadows, in view from the site of Ted Kaczyinski's dissembled pipe-bomb factory, a mining company has discovered gold. The company proposes to blast out a 440 acre open pit and spread the ore over an area the size of Manhattan's Central Park. The hole could comfortably hold two Space Needles_. Showers of cyanide would separate out the gold. Nearby, on the Blackfoot's alluvial plain, the company would pile enough waste rock to fill 100 Kingdomes, casting a shadow over Norman Maclean's beloved trout stream.

Would the river notice? A clearcut forest grows back, but a mine pollutes forever. In the U.S., mines have killed 12,000 miles of river, more than the total protected as wild and scenic rivers.  

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Paul Koberstein