It ain't over till it's over

  When President Clinton announced a $65 million land swap with Crown Butte Resources Inc. to stop development of a gold mine on the boundary of Yellowstone National Park, it sounded like a done deal. But federal officials have only six months to come up with property that Crown Butte must agree to accept; if not, the mining company can nix the deal.

The agreement has only a 50-50 chance of success, estimates Paul Pritchard, president of the National Parks and Conservation Association. The reason: Congressional delegations from the states involved had no say in the deal, and only congressional approval can close it.

Montana's Repubican Sen. Conrad Burns has already said in an open letter to Montanans that he thought the land swap came at a high cost to his state's taxpayers. But Montana's Democratic Sen. Max Baucus has endorsed the deal, as has the state's lone representative, Democrat Pat Williams.

The land swap deal was a bomb with Crown Butte board members; four of seven directors resigned during the company's negotiations with the government. The Toronto-based company was forced to elect a new member before it could approve the deal Aug. 9.

Crown Butte can back out of the deal in February if it is not satisfied with the properties the government offers for trade. But company president Joe Bayless told AP he wouldn't have pushed for the agreement if he didn't think it could be closed.

*Mark Matthews

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