HELENA - The preferred plan for cleaning up the defunct Zortman-Landusky gold mines south of Malta would cost $22 million more than the state has available, a draft environmental study shows.
But the analysis prepared by the Bureau of Land Management and state Department of Environmental Quality does not identify where the state would get the additional money.
The two agencies are overseeing cleanup of the twin open-pit gold mines, which closed in 1998 when former owner Pegasus Gold Corp. went bankrupt. The mines had operated for nearly 20 years and employed as many as 225 people.
Pegasus also forfeited $30 million in reclamation bonds when it went bankrupt, money that is to be used to pay for the cleanup. But the latest environmental analysis of the final cleanup plan acknowledges that the $30 million may not be enough to perform an adequate cleanup.
The analysis will be the subject of public meetings next month in Hays, Lodgepole and Landusky, near the southern tip of the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation.
Roxann Lincoln, an environmental specialist for the state Department of Environmental Quality, said the agency will consider public comment on the draft cleanup plan and make a final decision later this year.
The analysis examined five cleanup alternatives for each of the two mines. It identified "preferred alternatives," which may or may not become the final cleanup plan.
The Fort Belknap Indian tribes have argued time that the original cleanup plans are inadequate, and that a full cleanup of the mine site would cost more than $100 million.
The preferred alternatives in the draft environmental analysis call for covering up most of the vertical pit "highwalls" that can create acid-mine drainage, as well as revegetating most disturbed areas.
The alternatives would cost about $5 million more than is available from the reclamation bond covering the Zortman mine and $17 million more at the Landusky mine, the analysis says.
If the state can't find additional funding, it would undertake a less-extensive cleanup that would fit within the budget funded by the reclamation bonds, the review said.
However, this lesser cleanup would "require considerably more long-term active management in order to maintain resource protection, and would not address the aesthetic and environmental considerations associated with the pit highwalls," the document said.
Public hearings on the proposed cleanup are June 5 in Lodgepole, June 6 in Hays and June 7 in Landusky. Written comment will be accepted by the government through July 9.