In West, mining's return faces resistance
The region's newcomers, who came for high-tech jobs and scenery, worry about ecological costs.
Not many cities can boast downtowns with both high-end jobs and river raft launches. That's what brought newcomers like the Gattiker family to Boise in droves – and what's driving them crazy about the coming of a gold mine.Skip to next paragraph
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The family relocated to Boise three years ago, after Mr. Gattiker got job offers in three states. He now bikes to work along the riverfront and takes their sons fishing there. She, meanwhile, has become a activist opposing the mine.
Similar fights are playing out across the West as the high price of metals has brought mining roaring back to the region. Once seen as economic engines, mining companies are now treated more like pariahs in communities that have prospered by attracting wealthy pre-retirees and "knowledge economy" jobs.
"The [economic] imperative decades ago was 'we have to do the mine, it's all we can look to,' " says Larry Swanson, an economist at the University of Montana's Center for the Rocky Mountain West. "And now we've had this amenity-based growth here and ... the reality is now people are living off the scenery. People wouldn't be coming without it."
Baby boomers have been pouring into the interior West, bringing wealth and mobile careers. High-tech industries such as semiconductors have brought younger talent. The newcomers help diversify the economy and give it stability.
"[Mining booms] may be a 10-or-15 year proposition," says Dr. Swanson. "We have a lot of experience with what happens after that – nothing. Except a clean up. And litigation."
Residents in Crested Butte, Colo., which hasn't seen mining in almost a half century, are fighting plans for a molybdenum mine on the iconic Red Lady mountain above the resort town. "[Residents] are concerned about the economy we have built up here, which is tourism," says Mayor Alan Bernholtz in a phone interview. "I don't think mining and tourism mix too well."
Montana voters approved and upheld a measure banning the controversial open-pit practice known as cyanide-leach mining.