Neighborly mining negotiations sour

  MONTANA


Environmental groups and a Montana mining company failed to see eye to eye over a "good neighbor" agreement after eight months of talking, and negotiations have stopped.


Stillwater Mining Co. and three citizens' groups agreed that the platinum and palladium mine, located on public and private lands in the Beartooth Mountains, would be around a long time, and it was in everyone's interest to stay out of court. Stillwater Mining spokesman Chris Allen says that the deposit, one of the largest in the world, is so big that the company foresees 30 to 50 years of production.


Environmentalists say that two demands by the mining company killed the deal in January: Mine officials insisted that the agreement would end if environmentalists challenged the company in court; they also demanded that environmental data be kept secret. Environmentalists said the new conditions were unacceptable and walked out of the meeting.


Stillwater representative Allen says the request for secrecy stems from Security and Exchange Commission regulations, which prevent the company from passing out information before it's made public.


But without the data, critics say, there is no way to fulfill the agreement. "It would be impossible," says Arleen Boyd of the Stillwater Protective Association, adding that the negotiated agreement had been based on openness between the mining company and the community.


Environmentalists also say that a ban on lawsuits would compromise their leverage. "The agreement was a way to shine a light on the operation and encourage them to do the right thing," says Boyd.


Both sides are reviewing the contract and are optimistic they can return to the table. "A tremendous amount of time and psyche has been invested," says Allen. Boyd agrees. "There's too much good stuff in the agreement to throw it all away," he says.


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