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Black Thunder Mine

In this April 2007 file photo, a shovel prepares to dump a load of coal into a 320-ton truck at the Black Thunder Mine in Wright, Wyo. Black thunder Mine is owned by Arch Coal Co. and located within the state’s Powder River Basin.

BILLINGS – The Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council voiced unanimous opposition Monday to the controversial Tongue River Railroad, considered crucial to developing Otter Creek coal in southeast Montana.

The council, citing concerns about damage to tribal culture and the environment, voted 9-0 to oppose the $403 million railroad proposed by partners Burlington Northern Santa Fe, Arch Coal, and candy bar magnate Forrest Mars, who owns a ranch in the area. The railroad would open southeast Montana to large-scale coal surface mining, with Asia a potential market.

Concerns about the railroad were multiple, said Conrad Fisher, Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council member.

“We’re talking about the effects that would burden and stress the local resources that we have and the cultural and environmental affects that it would have,” said Conrad Fischer, Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council member. “Understand that those are all integrated. We need to see them as part of the fabric of our native heritage. I don’t want to say there’s one more important than the other. They’re integrated.”

The vote comes two days before the federal Surface and Transportation Board will stop taking public comment on an environmental report looking at the impacts of the proposed railroad.

The Tribal Council announced in July that it would make an additional investigation of cultural sites along paths proposed for Tongue River Railroad after Northern Cheyenne members raised concerns about a study done by contractors for the STB.

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BNSF has said any cultural site identified in the STB study would be protected.

The Northern Plains Resource Council, which opposes the Tongue River Railroad, said that more than 110,000 comments opposing the project have been submitted.

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