Roads for Coal Money

By Beacon Staff

After the state Land Board approved an $86 million coal lease in southeastern Montana’s Otter Creek Valley to mining giant Arch Coal Inc., environmentalists vowed to fight to derail the project. For his part, Gov. Brian Schweitzer said the money was needed to stave off planned state budget cuts and soon after the deal was approved he restored $600,000 to disabled services.

Now, <a href="http://billingsgazette.com/news/state-and-regional/montana/article_86be9640-3b9a-11df-b227-001cc4c03286.html" title="according to the Missoulian“>according to the Missoulian, the governor has said he may restore $3.5 million in stimulus grants that were frozen, but he doesn’t want “any community to use coal money that didn’t want to use coal money.” So he asked Missoula officials to write letters of support for the controversial Otter Creek project if they want grant money for a local road project there.

Jim Jensen, executive director of the Montana Environmental Information, wasn’t pleased:

“This money is supposed to be used for schools and he’s trying to issue it as a slush fund to spread around the state to curry favor for his administration and essentially buy or blackmail communities’ support for coal.”

Schweitzer’s move earlier this month to freeze grants for infrastructure projects across the state took several people off guard, including Flathead officials who said more than $500,000 in roadwork in the county and Columbia Falls was already completed with the understanding that the state would be reimbursing their cost.

It now appears the money is coming, but it may be contingent on a letter in support of coal money.

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