Letter: Leases should lapse if there’s no mining – Billings Gazette, April 8, 2017

The legislature and Gov. Bullock need to reject Senate Bill 235. It’s bad public policy and encourages economic speculation at the expense of Montana landowners. The bill could indefinitely extend leases for taxpayer-owned minerals to coal companies who haven’t broken ground for a decade. If you aren’t mining, you shouldn’t be tying up resources on speculation.

I ranch and irrigate on the Tongue River south of Miles City, and for many years, my ranch was under threat of condemnation by the Tongue River Railroad. I understand the impacts of speculation all too well. It’s about property rights. Because in all the years the project sat in limbo, so did our ranches. Dozens of us were unable to install new irrigation systems or fences because we didn’t know if, when, or where we’d have a railroad disrupt them and render them unusable. Some of my neighbors were unable to sell their property because nobody wants to buy a parcel of land with an uncertain future. When the proposal went away, the places sold just fine.

Speculation holds us economically hostage. That’s part of why the current law sunsets leases if the company isn’t developing after 10 years. Ranching isn’t an easy business. It needs to be efficient to compete in the global market. By interfering with landowners’ property, this speculation is a direct threat to southeastern Montana’s agricultural economy and way of life. Companies should have to either mine or give up their leases to create more certainty for their neighbors.

Mark Fix
Miles City