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Otter Creek Coal Mine Proposal Stalls Before It Started

A proposed coal strip mine at Otter Creek in southeastern Montana will not be built, after Arch Coal asked to suspend the permit process on Thursday. (Northern Plains Resource Council)
A proposed coal strip mine at Otter Creek in southeastern Montana will not be built, after Arch Coal asked to suspend the permit process on Thursday. (Northern Plains Resource Council)
March 11, 2016

HELENA, Mont. - In what ranchers and conservation groups are calling a big victory, Arch Coal announced Thursday that it is dropping its bid to build the proposed Otter Creek mine project - and that means the associated Tongue River Railroad is dead as well.

Local ranchers and conservation advocates at the Northern Plains Resource Council have been fighting both projects since 2010. Otter Creek was the largest proposed coal strip mine in the country and would have affected 18,000 acres of ranch land near Ashland in southeastern Montana to export coal to Asia.

"We're happy that ranching can go back to the way it was and take a breather, without having to worry about what's going to happen with downstream irrigation and everything else," said Dawson Dunning, whose family has raised cattle in that area for five generations.

Arch Coal, which filed for bankruptcy in January, released a statement saying it is abandoning the project because permitting is taking too long and the market for coal is uncertain.

Dunning said the giant mine would have plowed through the aquifer, possibly contaminating the water that feeds local springs.

"How would they ever reclaim that?" Dunning asked. "How would we make sure that the ranchers in that area maintain their ability to use water out of the stream in Otter Creek, and downstream in the Tongue River which Otter Creek flows into?"

Other ranchers opposed the mine because their land would have to be condemned to make way for the proposed Tongue River Railroad, which would have been needed to haul the coal to the main rail line.

The Arch Coal news release is online at phx.corporate-ir.net.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - MT