On the Tongue River Railroad – “None of you would be here if the bottom line wasn’t money.”
On February 13-14, representatives from the Surface Transportation Board (STB), the Tongue River Railroad Company (BNSF & Arch Coal) and their contractors from ICF International came to Billings to host the second in-person Section 106 tribal consultation meeting for the proposed Tongue River Railroad. Much was said those two days and I don't think anyone would disagree with my assessment that the tribal historic preservation officers and most other tribal representatives who were present do not want a coal railroad to disturb the Tongue River Valley. The folks that stand to make money from this project don't understand it when people say to them that, "hey, we may be monetarily poor but we have this land." They don't understand the value we place on our wildlife. They don't understand emotional or cultural ties to the water, to the plants and to the animals. Emotions and culture don't have a monetary value and therefore they dismiss it. How much money is a deer worth that feeds your family for winter? How much money is it worth to walk into the Otter Creek valley and hear only birds singing? How much money are petroglyphs worth that are thousands of years old? But wait, they say, we'll save the rock and put it in a glass case for you before we blow everything else up. Tell me, how much that is all worth, I want to know.
There is a message that is being sent over and over again to the people that live there, both explicitly and implicitly: Your only value is the minerals underneath your feet.I'm going to pick a little bit on Jon Tester for a minute mostly because out of all of our elected officials, I think he understands agriculture, climate change and tribal issues more than the other ones and I think he understands what is at stake in southeastern Montana. But, since 2009, Senator Tester has hosted many small business opportunity workshops throughout the state, in Bozeman, Great Falls, Billings, Missoula, Butte and Kalispell but not one that I'm aware of in eastern Montana. I know dozens of people on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation that want to start small businesses (restaurants, solar air heaters, sustainable building, gardens and greenhouses etc) and need the information and resources to do so. People want leaders with vision. Not leaders who throw up their hands and tell us that the only value southeastern Montana has is as a commodity colony.