HELENA – Supporters of Initiative 186, which would tighten clean-water regulations for new mines in Montana, brought a literal boat load of signatures to the Montana State Capitol in a symbolic display to show the likelihood of qualifying the proposed initiative for the November ballot.
The supporters say they obtained 45,000 signatures of registered Montana voters to qualify the measure. Signatures are being verified by county election officials. Supporters need at least 25,468 verified signatures to place I-186 on the ballot.
If passed this November, I-186 would require the Department of Environmental Quality to deny a permit for any new hardrock mine unless they can prove they will not require perpetual treatment of polluted water.
Speakers at the event told the crowd that they want more accountability when it comes to mining.
“Based on previous mining history and kind of corporate responsibility a lot of people are justifiably concerned,” said Brian Smith, co-owner of Blackfoot River Brewing Company.
Opponents of I-186 believe the ballot measure is unnecessary and is meant to tie up the mining industry in litigation.
The opposition also claims that if the initiative is passed it could deter potential investment in any new mining operations.
So far, more than a half-million dollars has been spent on supporting or fighting the proposed ballot initiative.
The pro-I-186 group, which is called Yes for Responsible Mining, had raised $303,000 through May 16 and had another $48,000 of spending by its supporters. The biggest total contributor has been Montana Trout Unlimited, at $263,000.
The anti-I-186 group, which is Stop I-186 to Protect Miners and Jobs, had raised $364,000 through June 20 and had another $78,000 in spending by its supporters. The Montana Mining Association is the largest contributor, spending $339,000. The other spenders include mining companies Golden Sunlight, Hecla, Montana Resources and Sandfire America.
Additional reporting on this story done by MTN Chief Political Reporter Mike Dennison.