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State Department challenges Canadian mine

The British Columbia project could endanger waterways in Montana, an official writes.

March 11, 2007|From the Associated Press

HELENA, MONT. — The Bush administration is challenging a coal mine proposed in British Columbia, saying it poses an environmental threat that could extend south of the border.

The mine that Cline Mining Co. proposed just north of Glacier National Park could cause "significant adverse environmental effects" in the United States, the State Department said in a letter to the British Columbia government.

Montana officials say the open-pit mine would jeopardize water quality in the Flathead area, which includes Flathead Lake and other waters popular for recreation. The Flathead River system spans the international border, and the north fork of the river is Glacier's western boundary.

The Flathead basin is "an area of unique and internationally recognized environmental importance," Edward Alex Lee, Canadian affairs director in the State Department, said in the Feb. 23 letter.

Kate Thompson, spokeswoman for the British Columbia Ministry of Environment, did not comment Saturday. Thompson said she intended to discuss the letter with Garry Alexander, the official to whom it was addressed.

Phone messages left for Cline were not returned Saturday.

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said in a statement he is "glad federal officials are finally engaging -- in a big way -- to help us stop this mine. Montanans are rightfully worried that mining in British Columbia could have devastating consequences to fish, wildlife and our growing recreation industry in the Flathead."

Baucus said he is still requesting that the State Department call for an investigation by the International Joint Commission, a Canada-U.S. panel charged with preventing and resolving disputes under a 1909 water treaty.

In 2005, British Columbia gave Cline a permit for exploratory work to determine whether the coal mine should be developed. Less than a year earlier, a proposal for another mine just north of Glacier was scrapped after Montana raised concerns about potential harm to water downstream.

In the 1980s, a proposal for coal mining north of Glacier ended after the International Joint Commission found the project likely to violate the water treaty.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer said this winter that federal intervention in the latest border-mine dispute would probably be necessary.

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