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A new perspective: 5th generation rancher leasing his land for controversial gravel pit speaks out

"I respect their property right and their freedom of speech,” said Black. “But I also think a lot of people are falling prey to confusion and misconception."
Posted at 7:08 AM, Aug 06, 2023

A proposed 6 million cubic yard gravel pit has caused an ongoing battle in Gallatin Gateway. Driving through town, you can see a big red sign that reads: "Stop this pit", with an arrow pointing across the street to the Black Ranch.

Bayard Black is a fifth-generation rancher with a lot of pride in his family-owned ranch.

“This piece of property has been in the family for 152 years,” said Black.

Homesteaded before Montana was even a state. But lately, Black says operating the ranch has become a financial struggle.

“Everything has doubled in price, and we’ve been feeling that pain for a while now,” said Black.

So, when the gravel pit operator, TMC suggested the Blacks look into a gravel pit, he was intrigued.

“It would give me the opportunity to reclaim the land,” said Black.

He will be paid anywhere from $6-18 million over the span of the 20-year lease before taxes.

Black plans on bringing his property back to life by rerouting the water and bringing in ponds, along with other improvements.
“Putting in a natural grassland for grazing and bring some cattle back up,” said Black. “I’d like it to be a substantial investment for TMC and for us to turn it into something that’s really valuable for wildlife.”

But not everyone understands Black’s vision. And he is okay with that.

“Because I respect their property right and their freedom of speech,” said Black. “But I also think a lot of people are falling prey to confusion and misconception that this will be the wrong solution no matter what.”

On July 31, a meeting to discuss the pit was held In Gallatin Gateway by the Gateway Conservation Alliance.

One man who showed up, Gary Bilotti, has lived in Gateway for 25 years.

“What we’re fighting for is to have a voice so the people will hear our concerns,” said Bilotti. “The concerns aren’t just for us because we live here, but for everyone that drives down that road.”

Traffic, gravel trucks driving up and down the notoriously dangerous highway, and the effect on wildlife and rivers are all concerns of people like Bilotti.

Back in June, we spoke with DEQ who said they make sure TMC’s application meets all the requirements of the open cut mining act and during that time, they also do an environmental analysis.

Commissioner Scott McFarlane says he believes the only way folks could stop the pit would be by filing a lawsuit claiming inadequate environmental studies were conducted by the DEQ.

But Black says he already considers the gravel pit a success.

“I hope this helps get a conversation started about property rights, good stewardship, loving your neighbor in a process where we’re trying to provide for our family too and I hope it results in a stronger community,” said Black.

TMC’s open cut mining permit application is viewable here.