- Associated Press - Sunday, February 9, 2014

BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) - The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation has given a $50,000 grant to a nonprofit group working to cleanup mine sites by extracting precious metals from waste rock.

Future West on Thursday announced the planning grant that will be used to develop a project on North Willow Creek near Pony in Madison County.

The group tells the Bozeman Daily Chronicle (https://bit.ly/1bA8Bgu) that it has located about 9,000 abandoned mines sites in southwestern Montana and selected some of them for reclamation attempts as part of the Montana Headwaters Abandoned Mine Reclamation Project.

The idea is that modern technologies can recover gold in rock that previous generations of miners discarded, cleaning up abandoned mines in the process.

Besides Future West and the state agency, other partners in the project include the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, the Craighead Institute, Trout Unlimited and Madison and Jefferson counties.

“One site in one watershed doesn’t define the whole project,” spokeswoman Monique DiGiorgio said. “But this will help us figure out the specifics of what the larger project will look like in the future.”

The federal Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 40 percent of headwater streams are polluted with toxic waste such as lead, arsenic, zinc, mercury and other chemicals from abandoned mines.

“That’s a greater percentage than what is usually acknowledged,” said Warren Colyer of Trout Unlimited, which has worked at reclaiming abandoned mines for a decade. “Most of these sites have never been cleaned up because of the expense and the liability. If someone tries to go in and clean up an abandoned site, they own it and are liable - that’s a huge deterrent.”

Madison County Commissioner Dan Happel said he’s pleased that Future West selected a mine to clean up in the county.

“I’m invested in seeing mining step forward and become a different enterprise,” he said, noting he understands the poor environmental legacy some mines have had. “We need to bring responsible mining back to Montana. Every time we send a job over to someplace like Brazil, it has more of an environmental impact. If we don’t have the right attitude, the project could have problems. But I’m not going to allow negativity to stop this.”

It’s unclear if Future West’s plans can work in cleaning up abandoned mines. The group is trying to raise money for a feasibility study that could cost as much as $300,000, DiGiorgio said.

“We would want to know what the mining looks like,” she said. “We don’t have those answers yet, but we are willing to explore the idea.”

The Montana Headwaters Abandoned Mine Reclamation Project will need more money to reclaim its first mine, and the group is looking at state lawmakers to appropriate funding, said Dennis Glick of Future West.

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Information from: Bozeman Daily Chronicle, https://www.bozemandailychronicle.com

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