Last spring, the government of British Columbia allowed Montanans only four days to comment on plans for an open-pit coal mine six miles north of Glacier National Park. To environmentalists on both sides of the border, who have fought similar mine proposals for three decades, the hurry seemed suspicious. Montana’s congressional delegation, along with many tourism-related businesses, also expressed concern. Initially, it seemed that Cline Mining Corp., based in Sudbury, Ontario, would back off.
In fact, however, the company quietly shifted
its aim 20 miles north, to a site along Foisey Creek, in the
headwaters of the North Fork Flathead River, which flows along the
park’s edge and into Montana’s spectacular Flathead
Lake. In November, without any advance public notice this time,
British Columbia granted Cline a permit for exploratory drilling at
the new site. The company says that if the mine proves feasible, it
would produce 1 million to 2 million tons of coal per year.
David Thomas, a city councilor in Fernie, British
Columbia, says the province’s Ministry of Energy and Mines is
trying to sneak this mine into existence by using "subterfuge."
Opponents warn that such a large open-pit mine would endanger
downstream water quality and habitat for grizzly bears, bull trout
and other imperiled wildlife. They want a thorough assessment of
the potential impacts of both mining and coal-bed methane drilling
(proposed by the British Columbia government) on the Flathead River
drainage before any leasing or development takes place. And
they’re calling for the Canadian and U.S. federal governments
to take the dispute to the International Joint Commission, which
handles water issues that cross the border. In 1988, the IJC
decided against a mine that was proposed in the same watershed.