Thanks to the Montana Standard for the February 24th article on the Natural Resource Damage Program(NRD) and attempts by Mick Ringsak and Jim Kambich to reserve the public’s funds for the sole benefit of Silver Bow County. Some history before my comments.
In 1983 the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department filed an NRD lawsuit against ARCO. Immediately Don Peoples, Chief Executive for Butte-Silver Bow, protested to Governor Schwinden, advocating against the lawsuit. The Governor declined and the lawsuit proceeded for sixteen years.
During those years conservation groups regularly went to the Legislature to lobby for funds to support the legal action. Those groups included the Montana Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited, Skyline Sportsmen, Anaconda Sportsmen, and many other representatives of the basin. Members from these groups provided testimony to document the specific losses of resources and recreational activities as a result of the historic mining and smelting activities in the headwaters of the Clark Fork River. They advocated for continued financial support from the Montana Legislature to fund Montana’s lawsuit.
Butte-Silver Bow and business leaders either opposed these efforts or remained silent. The NRD lawsuit and settlement happened despite the Mining City.
In 1999 ARCO began a negotiated settlement that brought $230 million for restoration to be spent as directed by the governor. Within a year Governor Racicot had developed an NRD Advisory Board and support staff in the Department of Justice for the purposes of developing and recommending projects that would either restore or replace resources identified in the lawsuit. Because the lawsuit was done with state resources the expenditures are made for the benefit of all Montanans.
In the past twenty years the public has seen real progress in the restoration and replacement of the basin’s habitat and aquatic resources through NRD expenditures. The injuries identified in the lawsuit happened throughout the basin and NRD funds are being spent throughout the basin. While the communities of Anaconda and Butte reaped the economic rewards of mining and smelting, the basin got the unmitigated pollution that resulted from those operations.
The basin’s restoration needs exceed the NRD funds. Thus it is important that we select the best opportunities available and for an equitable distribution of remedies throughout the basin. To insure such a distribution the NRD Council adopted planned designated allocations. Ringsack and Kambich agreed to the plan. Now they express positions and take votes in opposition to their agreements.
As governors have appointed members to the NRD Council they have sought to have diverse representation from within the basin. Still the goal of the Council is to make decisions that provide the best results for the entire basin. For Ringsak and Kambich to claim that the Mining City was a leader in obtaining the NRD funds and thus should have priority for expenditures is absolutely false. Taking these positions as members as the NRD Council insults the legitimate work and dedication of the other members and the professional NRD staff.