The Zortman Landusky gold and silver mine is located in the Little Rocky Mountains of north central Montana, just south of the Fort Belknap Reservation — home to the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine Tribes.
Cyanide Spill Contaminates Drinking Water
The mine, which operated from 1979 – 1998, has caused extensive surface and groundwater contamination. Over the course of operations, the mine has experienced over a dozen cyanide spills, including one spill that released 50,000 gallons of cyanide solution and contaminated a community drinking water supply.
The mine also developed a serious acid mine drainage problem as it began to mine environmentally risky sulfide ores. In the early 1990s the State of Montana, the Fort Belknap Tribes and the Environmental Protection Agency filed suits against the company for impacts to water resources due to long-term water quality violations, including cyanide, acids and metals.
Bankruptcy Leave $33 Million in Clean-Up Costs
In 1998, the company filed for bankruptcy, leaving the state of Montana with the liability for $33 million in long-term water treatment and reclamation costs — a testament to the inadequacy of bonding requirements for mining operations that persists to this day.
The state has determined that water pollution generated by the mine is so severe that expensive water treatment systems will have to be operated forever.
Earthworks joined the Fort Belknap Community Council in lawsuit to ensure long-term clean-up
Earthworks joined the Fort Belknap Community Council in a legal challenge of the final reclamation plan selected by the State and U.S. BLM for mine reclamation. Since then, we entered into an interim consent decree that identified a scheduled process for proceeding with clean up plans, obtaining additional funding sources for cleanup and addressing the data gaps.
While much of the surface reclamation has been completed, water quality issues are a serious and long-term problem, with roughly a dozen streams in the Little Rocky Mountains still polluted by harmful metals, and severe shortages in funds for long-term water treatment.