Montana Politics

Dec 28, 2010 7:33 PM by Marnee Banks (Helena)

Montana Politics 2010: Otter Creek Controversy

Montana's News Station is highlighting some of the top stories that shaped Montana politics in 2010. Today we look at #4 on the list.

(March 18, 2010) The Montana State Land Board has approved leasing 9,500 acres in southeast Montana to Arch Coal at fifteen cents per ton, plus a bonus bid of nearly $86-million dollars. The News Station's Marnee Banks was at the meeting to hear the decision, and observed as a small group of protesters made their presence known.

Members of the Land Board include Governor Brian Schweitzer, Attorney General Steve Bullock, State Auditor Monica Lindeen, Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau, and Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, and on Thursday, there was a meeting to address the Otter Creek issue.

The Land Board heard a flood of public comment over Arch Coal's proposal.

New to the table were several superintendents from eastern Montana urging the Board to move ahead with the lease.

Jim Hansen, superintendent of Broadus Public Schools, said, "Today you have the opportunity to provide a brighter future for the children of not only Powder River County but all the students in our state."

Also new to the podium were members from the disabilities community, also urging the Board to lease the land.

June Hermanson of the MT Association for Rehabilitation said, "The natural resources in this state may be tapped into in a responsible fashion; by doing so (we) can support what we always consider our greatest natural resource in this state, and thats its people."

Those opposed to the lease expressed concerns about the environment, and using the lease money as a temporary fix.

Anne Hedges of the Montana Environmental Information Center said, "If you really intend to fund these programs with this money, you should be getting full market value, fifteen cents is not full market value."

Arch Coal president David Finnerty addressed the concerns of mine workers by promising to allow union participation, saying, "Arch further recognizes and appreciates the opportunity to do business in the state of Montana and acceptance of our bid by the Land Board today is certainly a great step in that process."

In the middle of a motion to approve the lease, five protesters from Missoula took the floor.

Security escorted the members of the Land Board out of the room.

The protesters stated they would not leave until the Board decided against leasing the land.

Helena Police cuffed the individuals and removed them from the room; the protesters are reportedly going to be charged with disorderly conduct.

When the meeting continued, Governor Schweitzer, McCulloch and Lindeen voted to approve the lease, while Juneau and Bullock dissented.

The Governor's office estimates this lease will bring in over $5-billion dollars over the next 25 years.

It is still up in the air as to how that money will be appropriated.

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