Heading east along the Yellowstone River, we headed to Coalstrip to meet with Wally McRae to learn more about the Tongue River Railroad route and the ramifications to ranchers along the proposed route. Our next stop was Miles City — the iconic watering hole, the Montana Bar, opened just for us to "whet our whistles" before checking into our motel for the night and dinner.
The next morning it is pouring buckets as we head off bright and early to continue our fact-finding adventure. Our first stop was the Fix Ranch, which is bisected by the Tongue River. Mark Fix, who we met the previous evening, led us on a tour of his property. He told us that holding up the coal-to-China railroad was the best thing to happen in eastern Montana in a long time. The Ninth Circuit Court Appeals ruled that much of the decision-making to permit the railroad was "arbitrary and capricious," which means they did a shit-job! He also shared that years before the TRR sent land men to his ranch seeking a right-of way through his property — making sure he knew they had the power of eminent domain and could "take" his land if they wanted. They offered $100/acre ($4,000) for a 40-acre strip three miles through his ranch that would separate his ranch operation from the river, which is his water source. Conservatively, it is expected that an additional 40-50 trains a day would be passing by between the proposed Otter Creek mine and the West Coast where the low-grade coal would be spaced on ships and exported to China. To learn more about this click this link.
Our next stop is at the proposed site for the Otter Creek Coal Mine where we meet with Del Dinstel and his wife whose ranch is adjacent to the proposed mine to hear more about the environmental ramifications to the land, wildlife, and water resources. Heading up Poker Jim Butte to a firepower we are rewarded with unsurpassed views of this gorgeous land. Heading down the other side, we arrive at the Alderson Ranch, one of the early dude ranches, near Birney for a barbecue dinner and to award Jeanie Alderson, Mark Fix and Beth Kaeding with the 2013 Sargent Stewardship Award for all of their tireless work to
protect and conserve the Tongue River Valley.
After a long day, board president and dear friend Robin Tawney Nichols and I head to Sheridan, Wyoming to spend the night before heading off on our adventure into the Bakken region of South and North Dakota to witness first-hand the fracking operations underway.