Where one sister sees gain, another sees ruin and loss

  • Teresa Garland

    Heather Abel
  • Becky Garland

    Glenn Oakley
  • Garland's store in downtown Lincoln is next to McDonald Mine office

    Heather Abel

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

If a single family could illustrate Montana's love-hate relationship with mining, it would be the Garlands, who run Garland's General Store, along Lincoln's main strip.

Cecil and Barbara Garland established the store in the 1950s, but their daughter Teresa, 44, is in charge now. She sells fly-fishing paraphernalia to tourists, and boots and gloves to the locals. And she is married to gold miner KD Feeback, whose office is next door. She thinks the mine will buttress the Lincoln economy the way timber supports a mine shaft. Teresa Garland explains that the McDonald Mine estimates it will spend $45 million annually on goods and services, and pay $1.5 million in property taxes, some of which will help Lincoln schools.

Then there is the mining company's good will. Although Canyon Resources is at least a year away from asking the state for its permits, its charity permeates the town. The front hallway of the gold-mine office is plastered with thank-you cards from Boy Scout troops, kindergarten classes, the wrestling team, the Babe Ruth Association. On any given day, the local paper will show a smiling student who was awarded a scholarship from the gold mine to attend volleyball camp. The company bought computers for the elementary school, where the majority of kids are poor enough to qualify for the school lunch program. Most important, all the emergency vehicles in this remote town were donated by the mine, as was a Jaws of Life to pry people out of crashed cars.

"They get in trouble for doing good work, like they're trying to buy us off. Nah, they've got to do it if they're gonna hang out. That's what Main Street Lincoln does," says Teresa Garland. "We contribute to every kid and club willing to jump rope for five cents a minute for uniforms. They just have more money than I do."

Teresa's sister Becky, 41, disagrees. Becky has spent most of her life defending the river, earning the nickname "Godmother of the Blackfoot."

She started almost 30 years ago, when her father, Cecil Garland, was leading an unprecedented fight against Anaconda Co., which wanted to mine copper on state land along the Blackfoot River. Townspeople rallied behind the mine; Cecil and Becky Garland spoke out against it. In 1969, much of the town of Lincoln boycotted Garland's General Store, while busloads of students from the University of Montana in Missoula drove 160 miles round-trip to Lincoln weekly to bring it customers.

In a testament to Montana's burgeoning environmental consciousness, the state land board, which only had four members at the time, tied 2-2 on whether to allow the mine, and for the first time in its history, Anaconda was denied a permit. (To avoid future gridlock, the state land board added a member.)

Now another company wants to mine along the Blackfoot, this time gold instead of copper, and Becky thinks the benefits to the town are not worth the risks to the river. She says relying on handouts or business from the gold mine undermines the town, the way a mine that tunnels underground eventually weakens a mountain.

She describes what happened when Phelps Dodge started bringing drillers to Lincoln five years ago. Becky, who ran Garland's at the time, tried to accommodate. She ordered clothing and boots from the company store catalogue they provided her with. Like all other merchandise, she ordered it two seasons in advance.

"They forget to tell you that next spring the drillers won't be coming out. You have all this Carhartt clothing or 30 pairs of steel-toed boots. This kind of thing is going to really kill small businesses."

Becky predicts that if the mine is built, a chain store like Wal-Mart will set up shop, displacing the two locally owned grocery stores, and possibly Garland's as well. A franchise can quickly build up inventory, and pull out at quick notice, when the bust comes.

"For my whole life in Lincoln, we have been able to make do with what we have. When the community decided we needed something, the community got together and figured out how to get it," she says. "We will lose the community fiber."