Money for restoration projects in Butte will finally begin to flow this year from a 2008 settlement with Atlantic Richfield Co. that allocated $28.1 million plus interest to restore polluted ground and surface water resources.
The Butte Natural Resource Damage Restoration Council, comprised of citizen appointees, met last Thursday for the first time since former Gov. Brian Schweitzer signed the restoration plan into law in January.
That plan allocates about $32 million for various projects in the area that starts at Texas and Farrell streets and follows Silver Bow Creek to the Interstate 15-90 overpass of Montana Street.
“It feels very good,” BNRC Chair Elizabeth Erickson said. “We all worked really hard on this plan, and it’s time to get boots on the ground and see something for the money.”
At the meeting Thursday, various projects were discussed including work at the Diggings East and Northside tailings sites, tree-planting initiatives, and the status of the Basin Creek water treatment plant.
One project that will shortly see action is at the Steward Mine yard where over a 1,000 young aspen trees and some shrubs will be planted in a one-acre plot of land. The planting will begin in May, and is projected to cost $70,000.
The tree planting initiative was originally planned for the Parrot Mine dump, but was switched to the Steward Mine yard because the lack of quality top soil at the Parrot site, said Pat Cunneen, a Natural Resource Damages Program environmental science specialist. Cunneen moderated Thursday’s meeting.
Other work that will begin in the next couple of weeks includes 50 test holes dug at the Diggings East and Northside tailings sites to investigate the extent of the contamination there. Those sites are located east of Montana Street near the confluence of Silver Bow Creek and Blacktail Creek. The boreholes will cost about $1,000 each, but cleanup work at the Parrot tailings site behind the Butte Civic Center is in limbo, according to Erickson.
Overall, the plan allocates $10 million to restore the Upper Silver Bow Creek corridor, but Erickson said the BNRC is seeking partners to help with the cleanup of mine waste in this area.
She said the BNRC hopes the state will agree to use some of a projected $20 million that might remain from the cleanup of the Silver Bow Creek corridor once that Natural Resources Damage Program project is finished in 2015.
“The way we set the plan up was that we wanted partners for the removal of the Parrot tailings and then the Diggings East and Northside tailings,” Erickson said. “(Those projects) are really partially remediation and partially restoration and we didn’t feel like we should use restoration money to do remediation — removal of tailings, so we were asking for partners in that, namely the state and ARCO.”
Erickson said she has gotten no commitment from the state to use money leftover from the downstream cleanup, but that it makes perfect sense to the Butte council.
“We’re saying this is Silver Bow Creek, too,” Erickson said. “If you’re not using it down there, come and combine it with our money and get the headwaters of the creek cleaned up also.”
She also said negotiations with ARCO are underway to chip in with these cleanup costs because it ultimately reduces its water treatment costs.
The $10 million Basin Creek water treatment plant was also on the agenda. Butte-Silver Bow Chief Executive Matt Vincent recently announced that the county will hire an engineer to manage the creation of the treatment plant. At the meeting Thursday, Vincent said the plant is a top priority and he expects to have the new position filled quickly. He also hopes construction of the plant can start by the end of this year.
“We’re confident that we will get it out for bid this year and maybe even break some ground,” Vincent said.
Vincent announced the reappointments of Erickson, Mark Gollinger, John McKee, Chad Okrusch, and Emmett Riordan to the council. He also appointed Bill Callaghan, a science teacher at Butte High School, as its newest member. Callaghan replaces the departing Ruth Lee.
Callaghan, an Anaconda native, has lived in Butte since 1991. He has a degree in botany, and knew Vincent from their time together on the Clark Fork Watershed Education Program.
“I have a lot of experience, and I’ve been looking at these issues since I was in high school,” Callaghan said. “Now, I have an opportunity to take what I’ve learned and what I know, and my experiences at the Clark Fork Watershed Education Program, and give something back to the community. I’m excited about it.”
The appointments await the final approval by the Butte-Silver Bow Council of Commissioners.
Larry Curran, Steve Gallus, and Helen Joyce, who were appointed by Gov. Schweitzer, are also expected to remain on the council.
Finally, the council decided to seek another round of input from the public on $1 million allocated for unspecified smaller projects. Erickson explained that those projects are limited to $100,000 each, but that the suggestions received last year from the public didn’t fit the criteria. She said the council will seek new suggestions from the public shortly.
“There are specific criteria that the projects have to meet in order to fund them,” Erickson said. “They have to benefit the ground water, and be restoration, not remediation. There’s a whole set of criteria. Some didn’t meet them. What we said tonight is let’s get that criteria out there and ask for another call for those small projects. It’s been about a year since we had the call. Things have changed, and we think there might be other projects out there.”
— Reporter Francis Davis can be reached at email@example.com