Sometimes there's no good way to do something that needs to be done.
Such is the case with Montana's efforts to clean up an environmental mess near Cooke City that has been polluting water flowing into Yellowstone National Park for years.
As part of that project, Montana plans to haul nearly 50,000 tons of mine tailings from Cooke City to Whitehall, Mont., by way of the Chief Joseph Highway. This has raised concerns from some in Park County, who fear that a number of big trucks hauling heavy loads through Sunlight Basin and over Dead Indian Pass will disrupt travel through the scenic area, create danger for other motorists and cause damage to the highway.
Mostly though, the current anger expressed by Park County officials stems from the fact that they weren't consulted before this plan was put in place.
When the Tribune investigated the situation back in June, though, the project didn't seem to be a secret. We learned that the Wyoming Department of Transportation was able to review the condition of the Chief Joseph Highway before a contract was awarded by Montana. The department determined that the highway was capable of handling the traffic with certain conditions.
Montana DEQ waited until the review was done and agreed to WyDOT's conditions before awarding the contract.
One Park County commissioner said at that time that the Wyoming Highway Patrol would be watching the highway closely to ensure safety, and he had great faith that WyDOT and the patrol could handle the situation.
As for disrupting tourist traffic, the extra trucks couldn't possibly be more disruptive than average road construction projects — and many of those last longer than the one summer planned for hauling out the tailings.
The plan to haul part of the waste out of the area appears to be a compromise. Ideally, all of the tailings would be removed, but that is impractical. Leaving all of them in place, on the other hand, increases the risk that a seismic event would cause containment of the tailings to fail. The compromise is to haul some of the waste away to provide more secure containment of the rest.
Once that decision is made, there are only three ways to haul out the waste. It should be obvious to anyone who has driven it that the Beartooth Highway is not an option. The highway from Silver Gate into the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone is not engineered for heavy trucks, and this stretch of road is very narrow, with no shoulders, in many places. In addition, sections of the road are bordered by forest, reducing visibility for some distance, so it's not an option, either. That leaves Chief Joseph.
The purpose of this project is to stop acid from leaking into a creek that flows into Yellowstone Park. That is a worthy goal, and because it is a worthy goal, it is worth the price of a summer's disruption on the Chief Joseph Highway.
Park County shouldn't stand in the way.