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Silver Bow Creek

Silver Bow Creek is seen in this file photo from 2014.

Sending storm water down Butte mine shafts is one idea that came up during a meeting with community members and federal and state officials Thursday.

At the behest of long-time Superfund watchdog Fritz Daily, several community members sat around a table with Doug Benevento, Environmental Protection Agency Region 8 administrator; Dan Villa, state budget director; and Joe Vranka, EPA Montana Superfund chief, Thursday evening at the Thornton Building. The meeting was not publicly announced, but Daily invited The Montana Standard to attend.

Erik Nylund, representing Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, and Jim Fisher, Butte-Silver Bow County commissioner, were also present.

The community members expressed their dissatisfaction with the agreement in principle over the Butte Hill cleanup to Benevento and Villa. Both men were reportedly instrumental in the negotiations for reaching the agreement with all parties and agencies in January.

No one else at the EPA or the state has been able to accomplish that in the 12 years the agreement has been under negotiation.

The primary complaint from the group was the lack of a plan for a fully restored, meandering creek. The group wants to see a creek to run from Texas Avenue to George Street.

Another concern brought up was storm water. Some in the group want to see storm water pumped to the Berkeley Pit, where it would then become part of the pumped and treated pit water. The current plan incorporates a variety of types of catch basins to capture storm water and allow the heavy metals to settle out before the water flows on to the creeks.

Vranka said the EPA looked at the idea of sending storm water to the pit previously. The problem is that a basin would still be needed to capture the water, he said.

Daily calls the storm water ponds planned for in the current agreement "mosquito ponds." The assembled group said storm water ponds will preclude the ability for a meandering creek to be planned for because they will take up too much room.

Benevento said that much of what the group was asking for he doesn't have authority to demand from Atlantic Richfield Company, which is the primary responsible party for the approximately 100 years' worth of historical mining and smelting waste that is the source of the pollution.

"I don't know that I can do all that you ask for, but I feel it's important that we listen," Benevento said. "I know you feel ignored by our government and EPA, and that bothers me. You deserve to be heard."

Villa said he’d like to see the community “reset” and talk about what they like about the agreement in principle as well as what they don’t like. He said a second part of the agreement is being looked at right now and the negotiators need certainty about what everyone can agree on. That will then help the negotiators move on to discuss areas where the community would like to see changes.

Vranka said a proposed plan is due out in either August or September. The public will then have opportunity to make comments.

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Nat'l Resources / General Reporter

Environmental and natural resources reporter for the Montana Standard.

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