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B.C. Premier Expects to Know Mining Costs Soon on North Fork Deal

By Beacon Staff

YELLOW BAY – Accepting the Flathead Lakers’ 2010 Stewardship Award for signing an agreement with British Columbia protecting the North Fork from mining and drilling, Gov. Brian Schweitzer gave much of the credit to his counterpart in the negotiations: Premier Gordon Campbell.

Describing the fragile talks, held secretly in Spokane, Schweitzer emphasized that – from mining royalties to political capital – it was Campbell who had the most at stake.

“He came to power with a coalition that was pro-mining, pro-logging,” Schweitzer told the crowd gathered at the Flathead Lake Biological Station last week. “He was negotiating against his own base.”

“It is British Columbia who is walking away from $7 billion,” Schweitzer added. “It is Gordon Campbell who moved the furthest in order to get this done.”

And though Campbell wasn’t in the Flathead to accept the award, in a phone interview with the Beacon this week, the B.C. premier signaled his solidarity with Schweitzer on lingering issues regarding the memorandum of understanding, including the question of whether international four-party talks are necessary to buttress the agreement.

Montana Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester, Democrats, on June 28 called for four-party talks between the governments of B.C., Montana, the United States and Canada to move toward negotiating an international treaty to permanently protect the transboundary Flathead.

When asked about such a treaty, Campbell replied: “I don’t think it’s necessary.”

“Between partners like Montana and British Columbia, you can count on the MOU,” Campbell said. “We’re glad to work with Washington and Ottawa, but you know, we’ve done the work. We’ve done the work with local communities. We’ve done the work to protect the Flathead. The MOU’s there. Let’s protect the Flathead. That’s what we’re after and there are a couple of steps toward compensation we have to do. That’s what the real key is here.”

The compensation Campbell referenced is the estimated $17 million owed two private mining companies, Max Resource Corp. and Cline Mining Corporation, for investments made exploring the Canadian Flathead prior to the MOU signing in February, which banned mining.

“They obviously have some proprietary interests that they’re trying to protect,” Campbell said. “We’re trying to be, you know, very open about the fact that we’re going to cover their sunk costs; the governor has been a very strong proponent of us doing that.”

Schweitzer has criticized Montana’s federal delegation in recent weeks for not being forthcoming about providing the necessary compensation to these companies detailed in the MOU, despite the fact that the exact amount owed remains unclear.

Campbell affirmed that $17 million is “the ballpark of what we’re looking at,” and expects, “that within the next couple of weeks we’ll have a much cleaner number and we’ll be able to go and hopefully be able to resolve this with the help of Washington D.C.”

As for some of the public sparring between Schweitzer and the senators over compensating the two companies, Campbell said he was unconcerned.

“What my concern is: Let’s get on with resolving the agreement and getting it concluded, that’s what I’d like to do, the sooner we do it the better,” Campbell said. “A lot of people acted in good faith and came to the agreement working together, and that’s really what the key to this is, it’s: We can accomplish all of our goals. We can respect the desires of the people of Montana, the people of British Columbia, we can respect the very positive relationship between Canada and the United States, and we should get on and execute this plan.”

The memorandum of understanding marked a historic turning point in the decades-long struggle to prevent mining companies in the northern reaches of the Flathead basin from exploiting the rich coal, gas and gold deposits in southeastern B.C., the byproducts of which would flow south to harm water quality and wildlife in the Flathead Valley.

Campbell made clear, however, that once the sunk costs owed the companies are known, he expects the matter to be resolved quickly.

“We want this sooner rather than later. I think this is about us negotiating directly with the companies and making sure that we understand what their sunk costs are, knowing where the resources are going to be to meet those obligations and getting on with it,” he said. “So this isn’t a question of, sort of, can we tread water for a while.”

Campbell was quick to praise Schweitzer, and indicated that though the remaining details are important, much of the difficult negotiation is complete.

“This is a complicated issue that took a lot of work from both Montana and British Columbia,” Campbell said. “Gov. Schweitzer has come to this with a clear vision of what he wanted to accomplish and with a clear view, with us, that we have to do it with people from Montana, with people from British Columbia; that’s what we’ve done. That’s what a real friend does, that’s what a real partner does, and that’s what Montana and British Columbia are.”

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