Letter: Tongue River at risk – Billings Outpost, Aug. 23, 2012

August 24, 2012

Categories: Agriculture, Coal, Letters, Member news


I recently read an opinion editorial by union representatives printed in several papers across the state. It is interesting that the focus of this opinion is that their jobs are more important than the agricultural jobs that now support many of the hardworking Montanans who live in the Tongue River and Otter Creek valleys.

The Tongue River is a pristine untouched valley. The agriculture production here is comparable to production in the San Joaquin Valley in California. That will all change with the development of Otter Creek Coal.

The Tongue River Railroad that must be built to transport the Otter Creek coal will devastate our valley. And, it (like all railroads) will cause fires. We have seen enough fires in Eastern Montana this year to last for several lifetimes. The railroad is proposed along the river where there is no road access. To be able to fight the inevitable fires, highways will need to be built.

These roads will be paid for by the hardworking taxpayers of Montana. When this railroad was first proposed, the coal it would haul was destined for upper Midwest markets. The coal is now going to Asia – mainly to China. I do not think it is in the public interest to use condemnation to build a railroad that will be used for Asia and China. The Otter Creek development is not about creating jobs, it is about securing more money for one of the richest corporations in America, Arch Coal (who has leased the Otter Creek coal and is also one of three owners of the Tongue River Railroad). Will we continue to step on the backs of the hardworking farmers and ranchers of Montana to bankroll the richest people in the world?

The railroad will transport the coal to ports near Seattle to ship to China. There are hundreds of railroad crossings across Montana, including in our cities and towns. Burlington Northern will not pay to upgrade these crossings if life, health, or safety issues make that necessary. It will be you and me – the taxpayers of Montana – who will be expected to pay for these upgrades.

The Otter Creek coal serves as an aquifer for water in the area where I live and ranch. That water will be pumped out of the ground to mine this coal and most likely discharged into the Tongue River. The Tongue River is already being harmed by coal bed methane discharges in Wyoming and discharges by the Decker mine that go into the Tongue River Reservoir. Our irrigation land is at risk.

Otter Creek development is not about jobs. It is about corporate greed, plain and simple.

Mark Fix
Miles City


220 South 27th Street, Suite A
Billings, Montana 59101
(406) 248-1154