Clean dirt piles just off Kaw Avenue in Butte

An Atlantic Richfield contractor moved clean dirt to the area off Kaw Avenue where cleanup work is expected to happen soon. 

During a special meeting of the Butte-Silver Bow Council of Commissioners on Wednesday evening, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official made — and teased — a number of revelations about what's in store for the local Superfund cleanup moving forward. 

Much of what Nikia Greene, EPA project manager for the Butte Hill, discussed had to do with a proposed plan set to be released to the public Thursday. That plan will outline, in broad strokes, coming changes to the Record of Decision that currently governs the hill's cleanup. 

But he also revealed an important development outside the scope of that proposed plan: news that the Restore Our Creek Coalition will hear something soon about its “additional asks" for bringing a meandering Silver Bow Creek back to its historic channel.

Restore Our Creek has long sought a man-made creek that would flow from Texas Avenue to Montana Street, where it would join the existing confluence of Blacktail and Silver Bow creeks. 

“We’ve been coordinating with them (Restore Our Creek) over the last couple of years and they sent additional asks,” Greene said. “I know that the parties are very close — very very very close — to responding to those additional asks.”

Greene went over the proposed plan with the commissioners and other county officials at Wednesday's meeting.

Dave Palmer, Butte-Silver Bow chief executive, said the meeting was a response to commissioners’ request last week that EPA do a better job of keeping the council informed about what’s going on with Superfund cleanup in Butte.

The 60-day public comment period begins Thursday for the proposed plan. That is twice as long as what EPA regulation requires.

There will also be two public hearings where the public can give formal comment. (See information box.)

Greene said the “fundamental” change in the proposed plan is waiving state standards for copper and zinc during storms for Silver Bow and Blacktail creeks in town.

“Storm water is the culprit,” Greene told The Montana Standard after the meeting. “We’re in a very unique location as far as Silver Bow Creek being a small receiving stream and with the steep gradient of the hill, not to mention the whole mineralized area and mining for 135 years plus. We’re in a unique situation, and we’re right in the middle of the city.”

Greene said that 80 percent of the time during storms, Blacktail Creek exceeds standards at Harrison Avenue. He told the Standard after the meeting that during normal flow, Blacktail Creek sees elevated iron.

Some commissioners questioned Greene about waiving the state standard for copper and zinc during storms. Commissioner John Morgan asked if this was “the easy thing to do.”

Greene said EPA has been “looking at the data” since 2014 and went through rigorous modeling to see if Atlantic Richfield Company could meet state standards.

After that, the process went to “headquarters” and went through “a lot of review” before EPA approved the decision.

Commissioner Jim Fisher said he found it concerning.

“It doesn’t seem to be a fair program to Butte,” he said.

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Nat'l Resources / General Reporter

Environmental and natural resources reporter for the Montana Standard.

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