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Growing up in Libby helps me understand the need to properly regulate industry to protect our environment and human health. Watching my friends, family and neighbors get sick and, in the case of my dad, die of disease caused by asbestos poisoning helps me understand why it’s vital to vote "yes" on Initiative 186 this November.

I know that the historic mining that happened in and around Libby was different than the hard-rock mining that I-186 will make more responsible. Mining around Libby came with promises that everything was fine, just like the modern hard-rock mining industry is telling us. It wasn’t true then, and it’s not true now.

Under current law, modern hard-rock mines still can be proposed and permitted even though they will cause permanent water pollution and burden taxpayers with permanent cleanup costs.

I know that Libby and Lincoln County’s economy has relied heavily on extractive industries, and I appreciate and support both those industries. But I also know that I-186 will simply establish a higher bar for protecting clean water while allowing responsible mines to continue to be permitted. Because they are already through the permitting process, I-186 won’t apply to the two current mines sited in the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness — Rock Creek and Montanore.

Libby is working very hard to overcome the stigma of being a national Superfund site — one of the most hazardous toxic sites in America. This is happening is by promoting the other valuable natural resources in this remote, wonderful place — clean, healthy, abundant public lands and rivers. I-186 will help ensure that those resources retain their value for many future generations. I-186 will help ensure that future generations will not suffer and die because of irresponsible mining practices.

Finally, I know that there have been some spokespeople from Libby and Lincoln County who have been willing to help the out-of-state and foreign mining industry oppose I-186 by spreading misinformation about how it is anti-mining, job-killing, does not affect taxpayer money or is promoted by radicals. There are many with deep roots there, like me, who believe that this place and its residents, like all Montanans, deserve better than to keep repeating the practices of the past.

A "yes" vote on I-186 is an invitation for us to protect clean water, to promote responsible mining. A "yes" vote holds profitable mining corporations, not taxpayers, financially responsible for mine cleanup for as long as it takes to assure our Montana water is safe. A "yes" vote assures that the taxes on the mining industry are used for infrastructure and other statewide needs saving taxpayers hard earned money for our Montana priorities rather than subsidizing profitable mining corporations. A "yes" vote stops the current situation where state and federal funds intended for other uses are redirected to pay for the mine cleanup that too many corporations leave behind.

In recent years, there have been five major mining company bankruptcies in Montana and in every case, the reclamation bonds were insufficient to cover the full cost of cleanup and long-term water treatment. And yes, our tax dollars are subsidizing every one of those through redirected state and federal funds. There are many other states who have passed similar legislation and it has not affected mining jobs in those states.

I am writing this and supporting I-186 for the health and well-being of my children and my grandchildren. I hope you will support it, too. Clean water, taxpayer's money and facts all matter.

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Karen Wickersham is a retired budget officer and management analyst for the U.S. Forest Service. She and her family are from Libby.

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