Will taxes have to be raised to maintain the green space a community group envisions for the center of Butte? Commissioner Brendan McDonough asked that question at Wednesday's council meeting.
He raised the question after Restore Our Creek Coalition members gave an update on their plans for the future of Upper Silver Bow Creek. Running from Texas Avenue to George Street, the plan for a green space includes a large park, an educational center, sledding hills, trails and a host of other amenities. A portion of George Street would have to be permanently closed if the green space is as large as the plan envisions.
The portion of the site behind the Civic Center is under consideration as a future location of the county shops, which need to be moved because of the tailings they sit upon.
But before the park can be built, acres of tailings, some buried and some on the surface along George Street, would also have to be removed.
Former top Montana economic development official Evan Barrett said the tailings must come out in order for Butte to grow.
“Despite all we’ve done, our city is not a wonderfully attractive place at first glance. That has hurt us economically. Removing the acid factory that is the tailings will make that critical location an attraction for citizens and others who see it for first time,” Barrett told commissioners.
Some commissioners expressed solidarity with the Restore Our Creek members. Commissioner John Sorich likened the 1.5 mile stretch of Upper Silver Bow Creek from Texas Avenue to George Street as a “wound on the leg.”
“We all want the same thing; no one doesn’t want the creek cleaned,” said Sorich.
Commissioner Dan Foley also asked where the money to build the park would come. Longtime Superfund watchdog Fritz Daily estimated last fall that the park in its entirety could cost up to $70 million to create. But actual cost estimates have not been generated.
“How much would this plan cost and where would the money come from?” asked Foley.
Barrett said the group “can’t tell you the price because we haven’t gotten that far.”
Restore Our Creek spokesperson Northey Tretheway said after the meeting that the county must insist that Atlantic Richfield Co. pay for removal of all the tailings and restore a meandering creek through the center of town. Tretheway said the county should not sign the legal agreement under discussion by the agencies and the responsible parties for the Butte Hill Superfund site unless ARCO is willing to foot the bill.
But the state plans to spend $18.5 million to remove the source of the Parrot tailings, which is buried behind the Civic Center. That work is to begin this summer. ARCO has so far said it will not pitch in on paying for removal of the tailings. Whether ARCO will pay to remove the rest of the tailings located on the surface along George Street is under discussion at the legal meetings, but those are confidential.
Tretheway said the group did not speak directly about the issue the commissioners were about to vote on – where to relocate the county’s vehicle and maintenance shops – because Restore Our Creek wanted to show the commissioners what the area behind the Civic Center could look like.
“Our vision shows there’s much more opportunity back there,” said Tretheway after the meeting.
But Foley expressed the need to be realistic.
“As we make decisions, we like to have concrete ideas and numbers,” said Foley.