The Council of Commissioners gave the state the go-ahead Wednesday night to begin removing the Parrot tailings — mining and smelting waste long buried near the Butte Civic Center.
Under an agreement the council approved on a voice vote, the state can begin excavating the hazardous waste and work should begin on the north side of Civic Center Road in ‘late spring or early summer,” state Budget Director Dan Villa said by phone earlier Wednesday.
Dave Palmer, Butte-Silver Bow’s chief executive, said the pact was a “gateway” to the tailings removal and relocating the county’s vehicle and maintenance shops to a 20-acre site west of town.
County Superfund Coordinator Jon Sesso said by phone that the pact was "another milestone" in Butte's Superfund cleanup.
There are still “some things to be worked out” on the shops, Palmer said. Commissioners last spring chose private land off of Beef Trail Road north of the Copper Mountain Sports Complex as the preferred site for the shops.
The shops currently sit behind the Civic Center on land where part of the tailings are to be removed.
Gov. Steve Bullock said in December 2015 that he wanted the tailings removed and wanted work to begin in the summer of 2016. But there have been numerous snags and delays since then.
Villa, speaking on behalf of the state’s Natural Resources Damage Program (NRDP), couldn’t say what the overall timeline is now or how soon the shops might be moved.
The state said last fall that the overall project, including tailings removal and relocating the shops, would cost $31 million. The state was looking to the Atlantic Richfield Company to cover $14 million of that.
Villa couldn’t comment on whether or not Atlantic Richfield would provide that money, saying a federal judge’s gag order on confidential talks on cleanup of the Butte Hill prevented him from doing so.
But the agreement the council approved will give the state access to county’s property so work on the tailings can get started.
The agreement specifically outlines responsibilities, terms and a rough timetable for the county to relocate its shops and temporarily abandon its land near the Civic Center so the tailings can be removed.
Under the pact, the NRDP would reimburse the county for costs of removing the current shops and have new ones established at the site west of town. It does not specify an amount, but previous estimates put the cost of that project at about $10.9 million.
Sesso said the county would purchase the land from Hollow Contracting and get reimbursed by the state.
Palmer was out of town but said by phone that the county and Hollow have agreed to have the land valued by a commercial appraiser. That has not yet been done and if it came in "high sky," it would complicate the shops relocation, he said. But he did not expect that to happen.
Within 60 days of the pact being formally signed, the county would provide the NRDP with initial architectural and engineering designs for the relocation project and a budget and schedule to get the work done.
But the pact allows months longer for designs to be refined, agreed upon and ultimately bid out. Once the state's work removing the Parrot is complete, the land would revert back to the county.
The county and state have until July 1 to agree on shop-relocation plans, but that could be extended. If they agree on a plan, the pact would cover the time needed to relocate the shops and remove the tailings.
During Wednesday night's council meeting, Commissioners Jim Fisher and Dan Foley expressed frustration that the county had no appraisal or firm agreement with Hollow for the land, even though months have gone by since the council authorized that site for the shops.
But county officials said they needed to know for sure that tailings removal would happen before they had the land appraised. And Villa, who was at the meeting, said the agreement paved the way for everything to move forward.
After 20 minutes of debate, the council OK’d the agreement on a voice vote with no dissents.