Why I Support I-186

Montanans recognize the impacts mining has had and the risks it continues to pose to our environment

By Ric Smith

As the owner of a real estate company with offices on Flathead Lake and the Clark Fork River, I have learned the economic value of clean water when it comes to property values. The simple fact is property on our lakes and rivers will not sell for the high prices it does if the water is not clean and crystal clear.  So as a businessman, I will be voting yes on I-186 this fall.

There is economic value to a state blessed with countless rivers and lakes that have the water quality and habitat to support wild and native trout. In 2015, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks reported that fishermen and women spend $907.8 million in Montana annually. That is an astounding number.

One of the most amazing things about our state is that we do not have to sacrifice (and we should not sacrifice) water quality to grow our economy. In fact, maintaining and enhancing our water quality is good for business. We have what many places have lost. That’s why residents and visitors to Montana place a high value on our water quality, air quality, open spaces, etc. People want to live and work here. Businesses invest in Montana because they can open, grow, and attract top-notch, long-term employees who cherish the high quality of life our natural amenities, like clean water, afford. Protecting these amenities will help us build our healthy, sustainable economy.

In regards to I-186, Montana has a long history of irresponsible mines that end up polluting our rivers. Montanans recognize the impacts mining has had and the risks it continues to pose to our environment.

Roughly $30 million in public funds has been spent for reclamation, $6.7 million by the state (you, the taxpayer) for the Zortman Landusky mine. Additionally, water treatment costing us $1.5 million per year will be required in perpetuity. The state has recently recognized that we will have to dump another $30 million into upgrading the bankrupt mine’s water treatment system in the next few years. This is just one of the many examples of Montana citizens paying to clean up mines. 

I am not opposed to mining. As a business owner, I understand the important role mining plays in our economy and way of life. I-186 does not apply to existing mines or their future expansions. All I-186 requires is that all new metals mines can prove they can remedy any water pollution without leaving it behind forever, for Montanans to deal with. You, the taxpayer, should not pay to clean up others’ mess.

As someone who loves our rivers, streams, and the life they support, I will be voting yes on I-186. I will also be voting yes on I-186 as a real estate professional, who understands that by protecting clean water this initiative is literally protecting the value of our homes. I hope you’ll join me.

Ric Smith lives in Finley Point.

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