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Anaconda stack

The Anaconda stack is seen reflected in a pool of water in this file photo.

Anaconda is one step closer to getting its ray of sunshine.

The Environmental Protection Agency and Atlantic Richfield filed a motion Tuesday with U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon to modify the confidentiality order on Anaconda’s agreement in principle. EPA, Atlantic Richfield and the state reached that agreement at the end of July.

The agreement in principle is the verbal compact which is expected to lead to a consent decree. That decree is the legal document that will lay out the rest of Atlantic Richfield’s responsibilities to finish Anaconda’s Superfund cleanup.

It’s taken Anaconda a little more than four months to file a motion with Haddon to begin to partially lift the gag order Haddon put in place in 2003.

While that seems like a longer process than what Butte went through earlier this year, it’s actually roughly the same time frame, said Chris Wardell, EPA region 8 community involvement coordinator.

EPA and Atlantic Richfield held a status conference with Haddon in early April. But Wardell said the agency didn’t formally file the motion with Haddon to partially lift the lid on the Butte Hill agreement until May.

During that same April status conference, EPA and Atlantic Richfield also discussed Anaconda’s legal steps, Wardell said. That meant that EPA and Atlantic Richfield did not have to hold another status conference with Haddon after Anaconda’s agreement in principle was reached.

Because of Haddon’s 2003 gag order, only those who were at the table hashing out the issues know what the negotiators discussed or agreed to.

Rose Nyman, long-time Anaconda government watchdog, said she is hearing a lot of talk around town as residents wonder what sort of future remediation work the former Smelter City is slated to receive.

Some unknowns include whether EPA will waive state water quality standards for cadmium, copper, lead and zinc for upper Willow Creek and the tributaries leading into upper Mill Creek. The creek and the tributaries would still have to meet federal water quality standards, which are protective of both human health and fish.

EPA floated that idea a year and a half ago. But after taking public comment on the issue, EPA never announced a decision.

Anaconda's damage is due to more than 100 years of copper smelting. The Washoe Smelter closed in 1980.

Another large question mark over Anaconda's cleanup is the county’s direct arrangement with Atlantic Richfield. While the county was trying to work toward making several small agreements with the former oil giant, instead of one large one, the county's direct negotiations appear now to be tied up with the larger consent decree talks. 

If that proves to be true, then county residents may soon begin to learn the fate of the Old Works Golf Course, which though world-class, has never been the economic boon originally envisioned and has long been a financial drag for the county.

"The public is asking (about what's happening)," Nyman said. "And they (county officials) can't tell them anything." 

Bill Everett, Anaconda-Deer Lodge County chief executive, called the motion "a huge relief." He said he is anxious to get the information out.

"I want full disclosure as soon as possible," Everett said. 

Atlantic Richfield confirmed the move Tuesday afternoon, saying, "We should be able to provide you with more information once the court rules on the motion."

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Nat'l Resources / General Reporter

Environmental and natural resources reporter for the Montana Standard.

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