At Wednesday’s Council of Commissioners meeting, the Restore Our Creek Coalition presented Chief Executive Dave Palmer and the commissioners with a petition.

A simple, succinct thing, really: The petition states that those who signed support the removal of contaminated mine/smelter tailings and the restoration of a creek in the historic Silver Bow Creek corridor from Texas Avenue to Montana Street, to the same standard of restoration applied to the stretch of creek downstream from Butte to the Warm Springs ponds.

Attached to the petition were the signatures of 3,500 people -– more than a tenth the total population of Butte, and nearly a quarter of the number of Butte-Silver Bow voters in the 2016 election.

The coalition didn’t go door to door. They just made the petition available at some events, beginning with the Christmas Stroll in December and finishing with the Butte High-Butte Central basketball showdown at the Civic Center last week. (If you have not yet signed the petition but would like to, it's still possible to do so online at restoreourcreek.org)

We believe such a large number of signatures shows there is broad support here for a thorough cleanup and restoration, and we believe the commissioners, the state, the EPA and Atlantic Richfield would be wise to view it the same way. 

As Sister Mary Jo McDonald recently told a state official: “If you want 10,000 signatures, we’ll get you that, as well.”

That shouldn't be necessary, but in past conversations some in Butte-Silver Bow government have dismissed Restore Our Creek as “a vocal minority.” We believe that given this depth of support, it would be foolish to so dismiss the group, its goals and its concerns.

At the same council meeting, the commissioners voted in favor of becoming more actively involved in the Superfund process – and even to investigate the feasibility of hiring outside counsel to represent Butte-Silver Bow citizens’ interests in court if necessary. Those are positive steps, and we congratulate council member Jim Fisher for forcing the issue. The commission will have to sign off on any ultimate cleanup agreement, so their engagement is vital.

We applaud B-SB Chief Executive Dave Palmer’s public support for removing the tailings, expressed at a Restore Our Creek rally in November, and trust it puts to rest opposition and division within the local government on the issue.

We congratulate the people of Butte for making their feelings known, and the coalition for working so hard to present and reflect citizens’ views, both with their published vision for the watershed and through the petition. This group has always been about the grass roots, about the people of Butte and what they want to see in this town. When an organization is organic and transparent in its reflection of the public interest, the logic of what it seeks becomes very hard to argue with.

Next week, some of the mists of secrecy will clear from the opaque and seemingly interminable Butte Hill Superfund discussions. EPA’s Region 8 Administrator, Doug Benevento, will be in town to do one of two things: Announce an agreement in principle between the parties in the consent-decree negotiations, or impose a new unilateral order from EPA that will govern the next phases of the cleanup.

If there is a draft agreement, we will probably not find out specifics immediately. If there is an administrative order from EPA, we might.

Once the fog clears fully and we know what this tortured, secret process has produced, the wording in the petition gives us a pretty good place to start in evaluating the results. Here are the criteria we see:

- Does the plan acknowledge and correct the inadequacy of the current remedy for groundwater pollution on the Butte Hill?

- Does the plan call for the total removal of smelting and mine wastes in the Silver Bow Creek waterway, including Blacktail Creek, Upper Silver Bow Creek between Texas Avenue and Montana Street, and the slag-wall canyon and Butte Reduction Works areas?

- Has the state’s initiative to remove the Parrot tailings, a part of the above, been incorporated into the cleanup plan, endorsed by Butte-Silver Bow, and made possible by clearing the way to move the county shops and reach access agreements with the railroad and Montana Resources?

- Does the plan specify and sufficiently fund restoration of the upper Silver Bow Creek areas mentioned above, to a level consistent with the work done downstream between Butte and the Warm Springs Ponds, and along the Clark Fork River to Missoula?

- Does the plan include testing and monitoring programs to ensure human health is being protected?

We believe it is in the interest of all parties to these negotiations to ensure that any proposed resolution meets those criteria.

If it does not, we trust it will not earn the support of the Council of Commissioners.

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