Anaconda residents got a long-awaited update on what’s in store for their local Superfund site on Thursday night and learned that several clean-up sites will likely soon be delisted, that hot spots of arsenic will likely be excavated, that the town’s attic remediation program could be expanded, and that funding for the Old Works Golf Course could be stabilized, among many other revelations.
The changes to Anaconda’s Superfund site, which was created in 1983, are subject to the Environmental Protection Agency, the state of Montana, Anaconda-Deer Lodge County, and Atlantic Richfield finalizing a consent decree that would set the plans in stone. The parties came to a verbal agreement about the plans last summer.
Outgoing EPA Region 8 Administrator Doug Benevento paid his final visit to Anaconda in his current position at Thursday's meeting, which was held in Anaconda High School’s Little Theater. He said it is EPA’s intention that Anaconda’s consent decree be signed by the end of 2019. Benevento had originally predicted Anaconda would have a consent decree by the end of 2018.
But Benevento signaled the federal agency’s patience won’t last forever. If the agreement isn’t signed by the end of the year, he vowed that EPA will order Atlantic Richfield to do the work anyway. And he said that EPA still plans to have the entire site delisted by 2025, despite the delays in formalizing the consent decree.
“We think the consent decree is the best way to go,” Benevento told the audience of approximately 20 people. “But we’re not going to wait around forever to get it done.”
Meanwhile, though, the agency announced some incremental progress, with three areas of Anaconda’s Superfund site set to be delisted later this year.
The delisting will be for the work done to clean up beryllium contamination that had spread to different locations, the Washoe Smelter’s flue dust, and the former Arbiter plant. All of that waste has been removed and placed in a lined repository on Smelter Hill, but EPA’s Anaconda Project Manager Charlie Coleman said the final operations and maintenance plans had not been put into place on the three sites until 2018, when EPA finally finished up those administrative loopholes as a result of the current agency administration’s focus on Superfund priority sites and delisting.
While the consent decree is still being worked out and not all the details have been made public, officials said Thursday that residents can expect a change as EPA looks at arsenic contamination in yards.
Under the new agreement, if it is reached, residents can expect to see Atlantic Richfield excavate hot spots of arsenic from their yards. In the past, such “dirty dirt” was sometimes left in place even though the spot exceeded the trigger level for cleanup.
Coleman said this change won’t require an extensive redo of work.
“It’s probably a lot less than people think,” Coleman said.
If residents are still concerned about their yards despite further cleanup work, they would also be able to participate in an expansion of the county’s garden-soil swap program. Coleman said the new agreement would “amplify” the existing program.
The agreement is also expected to include a blood lead monitoring program, though Coleman said details of that have not been fully worked out yet.
Residents will also get a much more robust attic cleanup program. Under the agreement, the county would likely implement the attic program and the county would clean up any attic that has high arsenic as long as there is access to it, Coleman said.
“That is a big accomplishment, I believe, in the settlement for the community,” Coleman said.
The slag pile along Montana Highway 1 will also receive a partial cover. EPA is planning to do some sampling this year on and around the slag pile. That will help determine what the cap might look like.
Later this spring, the parties will also be able to reveal what has been hashed out about the future of the Old Works Golf Course, which has struggled financially for years. The county owes Atlantic Richfield in the neighborhood of $1 million for operation and maintenance. About a year ago, the county offered a proposal to Atlantic Richfield that would eliminate the county’s need to periodically ask the company for money to keep the course afloat.
The county plans to hold a public meeting sometime in the coming months to explain that part of the agreement.
This year, Atlantic Richfield aims to do lead cleanup work on 300 residential yards in town and to sample another 300 yards in the Smelter City.
The former oil giant will also do cleanup work on 600 acres between Fairmont Road and the Washoe Smelter over the next two years. Another 600 acres will be cleaned up from the interstate to Silver Bow Creek, Coleman said.
Capping the waste left in place on Smelter Hill will also be finished this summer, Coleman said.
Work to stabilize Warm Springs Creek near Galen Highway and near the junction at Warm Springs Hospital will be completed this year, Coleman said.
Atlantic Richfield will also be remediating the Stuckey Ridge over the golf course this year. That will constitute another 300 acres of work, Coleman said.
While the public learned a lot Thursday night, the size of the financial settlement the county will reach with Atlantic Richfield remains under wraps.