A citizens group wants to replace the mostly barren corridor from the Butte Civic Center to the visitors center with Silver Bow Creek Headwaters Park, according to a presentation Thursday at the Butte Archives.
Restore Our Creek Coalition unveiled its plan to Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator Shaun McGrath, who came to Butte from his Denver office. The plan for Silver Bow Creek Headwaters Park includes community comments gathered through months of workshops earlier this year.
Now officially called Silver Bow Creek, the corridor contains acres of significant metals contamination, both underground behind the Civic Center and surface contamination along George Street. The state and EPA have long battled over the corridor’s fate.
Restore Our Creek gave EPA a deadline – Dec. 15 – to get back to the group. Restore Our Creek is seeking “formal feedback” from all of the agencies and responsible parties – Atlantic Richfield Company, the county, and the railroads – on whether the plan for a park with a considerable amount of amenities will be accepted.
The plan calls for a host of features, including a meandering creek; wetlands; meadows; fishing ponds; pedestrian and bike paths; bus stops; parking lots; interpretive signage; benches; an enclosed dog run; picnic pavilions; a sledding hill; playground; exercise stations; sculpture park; community amphitheater; and a “living laboratory” for “innovative research, educational workshops and public programs,” among other ideas.
Changes to the area, according to the plan, would include removing George Street and putting in a pedestrian bridge to cross South Montana Street.
“The vision is a comprehensive end use of what we want,” said Restore Our Creek member Bill McGregor.
McGrath said the plan could provide a vision to drive the confidential legal talks on the Butte Hill’s Superfund cleanup.
“What (Restore Our Creek Coalition) has done is provide the opportunity to give us an anchor in moving forward,” said McGrath.
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But many questions remain.
One question is cost. Longtime Superfund watchdog Fritz Daily said he estimates the expense, if the plan were to be fully implemented, to reach $60 million to $70 million.
While no one knows for sure the exact amount ARCO has already spent on cleanup in Butte, Joe Vranka, Montana Superfund director, estimated the cost at a previous meeting to be approximately a “quarter of a billion dollars.” ARCO is not required, under Superfund law, to reveal its cleanup costs.
Another question is how EPA could implement a plan that goes well beyond the federal agency’s power. Under Superfund law, the agency is supposed to see sites cleaned up to protect human health and the environment.
“It goes beyond what our authority allows us to do,” McGrath told The Montana Standard after the meeting.
McGrath addressed some of the issues at stake in realizing the community’s vision, saying he needed to “temper expectations.”
“We (the agencies) come at it with different authorities, responsibilities, and resources.”
He mentioned the issue of cost and water, both of which are unknown. With no headwaters to the area, it is still unclear how a meandering creek could be achieved. Restore Our Creek member Evan Barrett said he will address that issue at a future date.
Despite the potential problems, McGrath said that it is important for the agencies and responsible parties to know what the community wants to see and called the plan “a beacon” for the confidential talks.