1855 The Assiniboine and Gros Ventre tribes move to what will later be known as the Fort Belknap Reservation, named for a U.S. Secretary of War.
19th century Pike Landusky and Pete Zortman strike gold in a corner
of the reservation.
1895 Threatened with
starvation, the tribes sign the Grinnell Agreement, selling the
U.S. government the gold-laden land. Miners stream into the mining
towns of Zortman and
Early 20th century
Mining companies tunnel into the Little Rockies for gold while
tribal members use the mountains for vision quests and hunting.
Underground mining continues until
1979 Pegasus Gold Corp.
and its subsidiary, Zortman Mining Inc. (ZMI), build two connected
cyanide heap-leach mines named after the original prospectors,
Zortman and Landusky. The companies promise not to mine sulfide
ore, which creates a lethal brew called acid mine drainage when
exposed to air and water.
1979-1990 The mining
complex grows. The state health department and the federal Bureau
of Land Management approve nine expansions without once asking for
a full-scale EIS, even though several state agencies report cyanide
spills and other violations of the company's operating permit.
1990 The Native American group Red Thunder joins
with environmental groups to appeal federal permits for
Zortman-Landusky's 10th expansion, warning that it will cause acid
mine drainage. The appeal is denied.
1991 Pegasus offers
scholarships and environmental monitoring to the Fort Belknap
Community Council if tribal members stop opposing the mine. The
Pegasus and ZMI apply for permits for Zortman-Landusky's 11th
June 1993 Red
Thunder and a second Indian group, Island Mountain Protectors, give
written notice that they intend to file a citizen suit under the
federal Clean Water Act. This requires the regulatory agencies to
take action within 60
continued on next
1993 After a heavy storm sends a stream of acid mine drainage into
the town of Zortman, the BLM requires Pegasus and ZMI to write a
new reclamation plan. The EPA finds that the mine has been leaking
acids, cyanide, arsenic and lead from each of its seven drainages
and cites ZMI and Pegasus for illegally discharging
1993 The state, under heavy pressure from the EPA and citizen
groups, files suit against Pegasus and ZMI for violating Montana's
June 1995 Because
the state's suit is still unresolved, the EPA files a federal
clean-water suit against Pegasus. The tribes later file a similar
July 1996 Although
Pegasus and ZMI make no admission of guilt, the federal clean-water
suit is settled out of court. The companies agree to follow a
detailed plan for controlling pollution, buy a $32 million bond to
ensure compliance, and pay $4.7 million to be split among the
tribal council, the state, and the federal government. This is one
of the largest settlement of a federal clean-water suit.
January 1996 The gold ore is
exhausted at the Zortman-Landusky Mine. ZMI keeps operating its
heap-leach pads but cannot dig any fresh ore until it receives a
permit to expand onto neighboring land.
1996 The Montana Department of Environmental Quality and the
federal BLM approve the firm's 11th expansion request, giving it
permits to triple the acreage mined by Zortman-Landusky, from 400
to 1,192 acres.
The Fort Belknap Community Council, National Wildlife Federation,
and Montana Environmental Information Center sue Montana's
Department of Environmental Quality, alleging that the agency's
decision to allow the expansion violates state law. The state
agency says ZMI should have been named as a defendant. When the
judge offers to do so, a DEQ spokesman responds, "I don't want them
in now, because the case should be dismissed." The judge asks him
why he is defending the mining
June 1997 In an
unusual move, the federal Interior Board of Land Appeals halts the
expansion of the Zortman-Landusky Mine until it has a chance to
investigate an appeal of the expansion filed by the Island Mountain
Protectors and the tribes.
September 1997 Federal and
state environmental agencies fine Pegasus and ZMI $25,300 for
violating the clean-water settlement by polluting a stream in the
Little Rockies last summer. John Pearson, director of investor
relations for Pegasus, says discharges were the result of "acts of
God" during "extraordinarily heavy rains."
October 1997 In order to
resume mining, Pegasus proposes to buy private land in the
Sweetgrass Hills adjacent to areas where the BLM has banned mining
for 20 years. Pegasus would then give this land to the BLM in
exchange for land near the Zortman-Landusky Mine. This would allow
Pegasus to resume mining on these lands without a
November 1997 Low gold
prices and high operating costs force Pegasus to shut its recently
opened Mount Todd gold mine in Australia. After Pegasus reports an
annual loss of more than $400 million, its stock, which had been as
high as $17/share in 1996, falls to under $1/share. The company
warns that if it doesn't get its permit to expand the
Zortman-Landusky Mine, it will not be economical to keep leaching
gold from the current heap-leach pads after Jan. 1,
December 12, 1997
Pegasus Gold Australia, a wholly owned subsidiary of Pegasus Gold,
files for bankruptcy in Australia. The future of Pegasus Gold is
unclear, and the state of Montana wonders if Pegasus' bonds will be
sufficient to pay for reclamation at its four mines.