Leave the Tongue River valley alone: The Northern Cheyenne have the last word about the Tongue River Railroad

We don’t want a coal train to destroy the Tongue River valley and we don’t want a coal mine to destroy the Otter Creek valley.That is the message that the Surface Transportation Board (STB) staff heard all week in eastern Montana and again last Friday night at the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Headquarters office during the last scoping hearing for the Tongue River Railroad in Lame Deer, MT.

Protest of the Otter Creek coal lease
Protesters outside the Montana Capitol building in 2010, protesting the leasing of the Otter Creek coal tracts

If you have been reading my blogs about the effort of the Tongue River Railroad company to acquire a permit to construct and operate an 80 mile rail line along the pristine Tongue River valley, then you know that the consensus in eastern Montana, among the landowners, tribal citizens and hunters is that we don’t want it.

At each public scoping hearing, in Lame Deer, Forsyth, and Ashland, and Miles City, person after person rose in front of their community members, their families, the STB staff and industry representatives, and said in no uncertain terms, that they opposed the Tongue River Railroad and would protect their land, community and culture.

Jeannie Alderson, long time Northern Plains Resource Council member and rancher said, “The coal companies always tell you what they are going to bring, but they never tell you what they are going to take away.”

For five days straight, liberals and conservatives, cowboys and Indians, the young and our elders told STB to deny the Tongue River Railroad Company a permit.

Watch the Northern Cheyenne and their neighbors stand up to Big Coal and the Tongue River Railroad

Lucky for you, my friend Jeff King, a Northern Cheyenne tribal member and solar air heater trainee, was able to capture some of the testimony from the final Lame Deer hearing. So, instead of me telling you what people had to say, I want you to hear it for yourself. I tried to boil three hours of testimony down to about 20 minutes.

That means that a lot of heartfelt testimony was left out and unfortunately, the battery ran out so not every person that spoke is represented.

Believe me, this is 20 minutes that you don’t want to miss.


And watch it till the end…..

Clint and Wally McRae - Ranchers whose land would be crossed by the Tongue River Railroad
Clint and Wally McRae, ranchers whose land would be crossed by the Tongue River Railroad. Photo courtesy Sierra Club
As encouragement to watch the entire clip, towards the end you’ll hear cowboy poet and rancher Wally McRae read his poem, “Our Communion.” It is always a pleasure to see Mr. McRae read his own poetry.

And, just a side note, two representatives from Arch Coal sat in the corner during this hearing. Never once did they get up and defend their project or  speak to the people whose lives they intend to upend. In fact, during one man’s testimony, as he spoke of his grandmother’s death, they stood up and walked out.

As Arch Coal representatives told one Ashland man, “we are just here to open a coal mine.”


Join us in stopping the Tongue River Railroad

Otter Creek Valley photo


Submit Comments

You can send your comments to: Ken Blodgett, Surface Transportation Board, 395 E Street, SW, Washington, D.C. 20423-0001, Environmental filing, Docket No. FD 30186. The STB also provides an online comment form.

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If you need help submitting comments or want more information about the Tongue River Railroad and its impacts on wildlife, please contact me at bonogofsky@nwf.org.