Sample Drilling

In this file photo, O’Keefe Drilling and Tetra Tech drill for soil samples in the outfield of the Butte Civic Center baseball field in October of last year. Tetra Tech does some consulting work for the EPA and DEQ. The future is uncertain now for government contracts -- and what that will mean for Butte and Anaconda's Superfund -- due to a freeze President Donald J. Trump announced Tuesday.

The latest snafu over the Parrot tailings waste removal could prevent “shovels moving dirt” this year.

The plan to move Parrot tailings waste to Montana Resources’ leach pad has fallen through, say officials with MR. Liability issues related to Superfund regulations were blamed for the change in plans.

Natural Resource Damage Program director Harley Harris called the latest twist in the state’s effort to remove the Parrot tailings “a setback.” Harris said he doesn’t know if the state can start moving dirt this by this fall, as was previously planned.

The state and MR, in conjunction with Atlantic Richfield Company, tentatively reached an agreement in July for the Parrot waste to go behind MR’s office on Shields Avenue. MR proposed that it would then, at its own expense, take the waste to a leach pad elsewhere on its property.

The plan was projected to save the state $400,000.

The Parrot waste — and its removal — has been a contentious issue for at least a decade. The Environmental Protection Agency says the 50-foot-deep deposit of tailings — which is smelter waste — does not need to be excavated. The state says that by not removing the source of pollution, located behind the Civic Center, Silver Bow Creek will be under threat of recontamination for years to come.

Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock ordered to have the bulk of the Parrot tailings removed last year. The state has set aside $18.5 million for the project.

Bullock said last year he wanted “shovels moving dirt” by this summer, but repeated obstacles have delayed the project. Several sites to which Butte-Silver Bow planned to move its vehicle and maintenance shops fell through for various reasons, including public outcry, and no site has yet been selected.

The state had originally planned to remove the waste and dump it into the Berkeley Pit. That plan changed to putting the waste into a repository built near the edge of the Berkeley Pit.

Then MR offered to essentially take care of the waste by taking it to the leach pad on its property. NRD environmental science specialist Pat Cunneen previously told The Montana Standard that the soil containing the tailings does not leach easily, so MR would not have seen a return on leaching it for another 20 to 40 years.

“I am extremely disappointed by this delay in the process," Bullock said Tuesday. "I have directed the state to immediately move forward to secure access to the edge of the Berkeley Pit, so we can get dirt moving. Butte has waited long enough.”

The reason MR pulled out of the deal, said MR manager of environmental affairs Mark Thompson, is because of the nature of the regulations surrounding the material, which falls under Superfund law. Those regulations became insurmountable, he said.

"It's disappointing to MR we couldn't work this deal through. We know this is a very important community issue," Thompson said.

Harris said there were some “very difficult liability, risk and management issues.”

Thompson said MR is still “here for this project in whatever capacity in the future.”

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Nat'l Resources / General Reporter

Environmental and natural resources reporter for the Montana Standard.

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