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As The Strip Miners Root Up The Prairie Northwest Arkansas TIMES, Sun,, Oct. 27, 1974 FAVITTEVILLE, ARKANSAS 7B Coal Sounds A Doomsday Note For Big Sky Country It IF I A III Di.^/^i.Mt , , ' ' , By PAIII, KKCIill COLSTBIP. Mont. (AP) -Handier Wnlly McRae culls Colstrlp Ills hometown, but he's a stranger here now. The production of energy hns made this lonesome corner or "the Big Sky Country" nn industrial oulpost. Colstrip, E nearly abandoned railroad town only a few 'months ago, throbs and rumbles today with the pulsating symphony ot industrial man. Hundreds ot construction workers are building a huge power plant to plug distant cities into untapped arteries ot coal under the vast plains. The 700-mogawalt plant will pro 'dticc enough clcctricly for a Â·city ot 200,000 people. Remote valleys echo the thunder of massive machine:, brought here to savage virgin land for a bonanza of coal. Â· A picturesque highway winding leisurely through (lie open hills is jammed with big trucks growling under heavy loads. Wild animals flee. Clean air is suddenly filled with the reck of burning ttiesel. ! The character of Montana Wyoming and North Dakota, where the coal treasure is bur ied just below the prairie has changed for the 1.6 million people who lived here three years ago, when the boom be gan. "The isolation and solitude the open spaces, the comrnu Â· nity of neighbors -- I can see :all that going out the window ' Â·Â·says Wally McRae. "It's some thing I had hoped to save foi ;my children. It's important and Â·precious." . : ROOTED IN KESl'ECT McRae operates a 30,000-acre Â· ranch, part of a family cmpin started when his grandfathe bought IfiO acres from a fu trapper in 188G. His cousii Evan McRae, owns M,00 acres. The coal is less than 20 :feet below the rolling grass lands of the two spreads. Three generations of the fam ily have built a life rooted i .respect for this awesome, ope prairie; an endless land tha makes a man Ihink even Go would be lonely here. ; That's how McRae and hi neighbors feel. Not so the 40,00 or more industrial worker; miners, engineers and others no one knows exactly ho\ many - who have come to th three states to mine the coa and turn it into energy. I Colstrip, there were 200 peop: in 1972. and now there arc 3 000, mining and building th power plant. 'Â· The construction worker cluster in metal ghettos sea lered around Colstrip and othe boom towns. They overwhel the. schools, crowd the hig ways and w a l k upon priva land as if it was public sid ilk. "I guess it's a small thing, it it used to be when you tsscd someone on the road, wave," says - 38. "People ere friendly like that around ere. But you drive by Colstrip iw and nobody waves. "I went to grade school in Hi would both cRac, who is olstrip, but now I don't even el welcome in my hometown ny more. The town is. so un- ^ttlccl, nobody knows anybody. There's a lot of wander-on espassng. They sec an empty cce of land and think it's not vned. I've seen thirsty cattle id horses waiting for people ) leave a pond so they can get ater .. . And there's a lot ot oaching. I have less antelope nd deer now." . BANDING TOGETHER. There arc hundreds of Wally IcRaes in Montana and Wyom- ig where the incipient Great lains coal boom has had its reatest impact so f a r . They re banding together in assqci- tiohs to protect this land. IcRae is a founding member f the Rosebud Protective Asso- iation. The .members give ach other moral support in heir battle against the mining ioom. And the association has platform to protect the Colst- ip area from a list ot ills: cologicat damage to the land rom s t r i p mining, higher chool taxes, destruction of ;ame, even damage to Mon- ana's two-lane macadam high- vays from heavy coal trucks. The three states have an esti- yiated coal reserve of 260 bil- ion tons. That's enough to gen- crate all the electricity Amerca currently consumes for 300 years.' It's the nation's largest iingle reserve of coal reachable by scrip mining. And it's a big icrccnlage of the three trillion ons which the U.S. Bureau of Mines lists as America's total coal reserve. or. The federal government had burn Wyoming coal, enough for leased only small parcels when the slate governments, especially Montana, began to resist. Now the federal government has agreed not to lease any more land for mining until it completes an environmental impact study early next year. "Up to now we're definitely in' control," said one state official. But Wally McRae isn't sure. "Anytime the federal government decides cowboys are expendable, they'll move in," he says. "There's just not much you can. do." Most people here liked the vast plains and mountains. Then changed the the energy crisis economics ot northern Great Plains coal. They BOOMERS call themselves "boomers" and theyr'e proud of.it. They are the skilled construe- Jon workers who'bring muscle and know-how to the boom; men who wander the country building power plants, bridges mines and come refi here Coal production in Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota was under 20 million tons in 1972 and it jumped to 40 million n 1973, almost all of it so far in Wyoming and Montana. The U.S. Bureau of Mines says this will increase to 600 million tons by 1985, if plans now proposed ay energy companies are carried out. Total U.S. production last year was 600 million tons. STATES RESIST About half of the coal reserve is on federal land controlled by the U.S. Department of Interi- ncries. They have with wives and children to live in hardship among natives who often don't want them. "You've got to go where the money is," said Rod Savage, a 35-year-old pipefitter from Le wistown, Mont., earning $450 a week in the coal boom. "At home, I'd be lucky t earn $300 a month. What's th sense of living in a crackerboj house and driving an old car Here I've got a new car, a ne\ house and money in the 'bank.' The Savages and their 4-year old son live in a mobile horn that is wedged like a metal sar dine among scores of others o a flat plain of sand and sag five unpaved miles from Roc Springs. Wyo. There's no lawn, trees o park nearby. Dust rises at th faintest breath, coating cars houses and people and filterin into every room. Savage is helping build th Jim Bridger electric powe plant, an S800 million, 2,00(1 megawalt complex lhat wi city ot hair-a-mlllion, like caltle. To reach the plant, he mist commute 80 miles n day. Boomers in Colstrip feel even lore isolaled. The nearesl doc- ir or supermarket or dcparl- ncnl slore or movie is 40 miles way. Children often play on a ravel-lopped road, dodging 10' on trucks. TO E N D U R E "You have lo draw en inner esourccs to endure here," said rtrs. Clarence McMurtrcy, Ihc 9-ycar-ol:l wife ot a pipefitter rom California. Her husband is .clping huild Ihe Colstrip Pmv- Â·r Plant. The/ live in a 22-foot motor homo with their three Mldrcn. The economics of coal is such hat it's 1 often more expensive o ship than to mine. As a re suit, industry, until recently lad little interest in going Wcs o tap coal deposits, no matte: low rich. Eastern and Appalachian do posits were more than ampl 'or the early American inclus .rial machine .and interest i even that waned in the poslwa era when cheap oil and gas he came the fucl'of convenience. Environmenlal concern an the energy shortage change the picture. Montana, Wyoming a n d tons of low-sulphur coal. It ca be burned so cleanly that utilit companies using it can easil meet clean air standards effec :ve next July. There's enough of the low-sul- liur fuel in the three states to encrato all tho nation's cur- ent electricity consumption for ) years. And strip mining is so asy the coal can be shipped 1,)0 miles and still be cheaper lan deep-mined Eastern coal, 'hose cost is rising. Wyoming has seven mines peraling now, producing 18.G million tons a year. Six Mon- ana mines produced Â· about 40 million tons last year. North Da- ota has four strip mines, and utput is small. A number of VAUGHN proposals have been made to slart major production in lhat stale. Coal economics make it most attractive of all to burn the fuel near Hie mine. AS a result, $2 billion now is being invested in plants, machinery and facil- Hies. Energy from the coal will be exported by wire, as electricity, and by pipeline, as syiv thctic gas. A century ago, Indians battled lo save this western coun try for themselves. Now the three stales formed after the Indians lost find themselves in a similar balllc. "We are part ot the United Slates and we rely oh oilier stales for things we consume every day," says Montana's Gov. Thomas L. Judge. "We have a responsibility to the rest of the country to snare our resources, but I don't believe that goes to the point of r u i n i n g . a state or diangintf the entire life-style of a people." . "We've got to have something lo export besides our col' lego graduates." said Jack Jones, a, Wyoming legislator. "But we don't have to make a damn junkyard out of Wyoming to keep air conditioners running in Chicago or Seattle." The TIMES Is On Top of The'News Seven Days a Week! 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