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"Good Neighbor Agreement" Marks 10 Years in MT

May 11, 2010

BIG TIMBER, Mont. - It's been ten years since local conservation groups and the Stillwater Mining Company signed an agreement to be "good neighbors," with those groups supporting the platinum and palladium mine and the jobs it brings, and the mine owners promising to keep environmental damage to a minimum.

It was an agreement borne out of contention, according to Big Timber ranch manager Jerry Iverson, who was a member of the original negotiating team. He says he and others had earlier fought the mine every step of the way, mainly because of concerns about water pollution, yet no one was pleased with the outcomes.

"It cost a lot of money to go to court. There's a lot of hostility and hard feelings. We figured there had to be a better way."

Iverson says when the Cottonwood Resource Council, of which he is a member, and other conservation groups sat down to try to come up with an agreement, those hard feelings had to be cleared off the table, and that took some time. A year of negotiations resulted in the legally-binding "Stillwater Good Neighbor Agreement," and even with a change in mine ownership and depressed platinum and palladium prices, the agreement is still in place.

Iverson says he's heard from people around the world interested in crafting similar agreements. As a result of the document, miners are bused to work locations to keep traffic levels low on rural roads, and citizens are involved in on-going water quality testing.

"That sort of transparency has led to a lot of trust, openness, and a willingness to meet and discuss very frankly about what's going on."

The Northern Plains Resource Council and Stillwater Protective Association also participated in the agreement.

Deb Courson, Public News Service - MT