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Berkeley Pit viewing stand in Butte

Visitors are silhouetted against the backdrop of the Berkeley Pit at the viewing stand located off Shields Avenue in Butte. Experts from Pitwatch, an organization that provides information to the public about the Berkeley Pit, were at the viewing stand last week to answer questions and demonstrate drones capturing sample pit water.

Another small delay means the complex web of pipes and water treatment pit stops for the Berkeley Pit won’t begin discharging into Silver Bow Creek until mid-August, according to Michael Abendhoff, Atlantic Richfield Company spokesperson.

When the pilot project was announced in February 2018, Mark Thompson, Montana Resources vice president of environmental affairs, said the project would get off the ground by the end of 2018 or early 2019.

Now the project is several months behind that original timetable.

Thompson said MR is “ready and we’ve been ready since April.”

“We’re just waiting,” he said.

Atlantic Richfield began construction on the polishing plant, which will be the final treatment in the intricate design of pipes and pit stops, in September of last year. The former oil titan originally said, separate from MR’s announcements, that it would have the plant completed by mid-summer of this year.

So far, the company is just slightly beyond that original plan, but it has upended MR's plans for an earlier discharge date.

MR and Atlantic Richfield share liability on the Berkeley Pit. MR focused on creating the labyrinth of 24-inch black pipe that twists and turns all around the mine’s haul roads. That piping, plus some 800-horsepower engines along the way, are expected to keep the toxic water flowing from the pit’s lake to each of the places it will go to drop the cornucopia of metals out of the water as it moves around the mine's site.

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Atlantic Richfield’s portion of the project was to build the polishing plant, which can be seen along Shields Avenue just east of the Berkeley Pit viewing stand. That is the last point the water will go to before it hits Silver Bow Creek.

The construction on the polishing plant is done. The former oil company, now owned by BP, was testing things like valves and safety features last week, Abendhoff said. The company has already given the filtration system a whirl.

Yankee Doodle Tailings Impoundment water was put through at 4,000 gallons of “dirty” water a minute through the filtration system, Abendhoff said via email.   

The company will then go through a demonstration for the Environmental Protection Agency in late July to show that it can meet standards with the water, but no water will leave the site, Abendhoff said. Instead, the treated water will be returned into MR’s mining operation.

Nikia Greene, EPA project manager for the Berkeley Pit, has previously said no water will leave the site until he is certain the companies can meet standards in the creek.

Thompson said MR and Atlantic Richfield have to meet standards in the pipe, not in the creek itself.

MR began pumping and treating Berkeley Pit water last spring. But that was part of MR's own testing process to make sure things were working correctly on its end. MR stopped pumping and treating the pit water after a few weeks.

Despite the minor delay, the companies are still four years ahead of when the EPA said MR and Atlantic Richfield have to begin pumping and treating Berkeley Pit water.

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