After more than 10 years of waiting while the Environmental Protection Agency negotiated over the cleanup, the Butte Hill is about to learn the next step of its fate.
EPA regional administrator Doug Benevento will be at the Butte Public Archives, 17 W. Quartz St., from 12 to 2 p.m. Friday, Jan. 26, to discuss the remedy for the Butte Hill. The public is welcome.
Although it's not clear if Benevento will be able to discuss details of the how Atlantic Richfield Co. will proceed to finish the work — and whether the mining and smelting waste buried along Silver Bow Creek will be removed — he is expected to announce if EPA has reached an agreement with the former oil company. Butte's Superfund cleanup need is due to more than 100 years of mining and smelting damage.
Benevento also plans to discuss the area known as West Side Soils at the meeting.
The Montana Standard reported for months that West Side Soils includes the Flat, a heavily populated portion of Butte. There are no boundaries for West Side Soils and no clear map. Three officials close to the Superfund cleanup told the Standard they believed the Flat was part of West Side Soils. EPA did not respond to specific email questions about the Flat being a part of West Side Soils.
But after a Butte-Silver Bow Council of Commissioners meeting last month, EPA told the Standard the Flat was not part of West Side Soils.
West Side Soils has become an issue lately because an internal government report said last fall that EPA doesn't know if mine waste is impacting human health for those who live within its boundaries.
Now according to EPA, West Side Soils includes areas west and north of Uptown which contain old mine dumps and abandoned mine sites and is sparsely populated.
EPA says it has tried to get going on investigating the damage in West Side Soils in recent years. EPA expects to name a project manager by summer.
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Both Butte and Anaconda were placed on EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's "emphasis list" last month. The list contains about 20 Superfund sites across the nation which will get Pruitt's direct attention.
But some community leaders remain skeptical that the overall outcome for the Butte Hill will be positive.
Dave Williams, president of the Citizens Technical Environmental Committee, expressed worry about President Donald Trump's administration.
"With this administration, in terms of environmental issues, there's no reason to be optimistic. If Doug (Benevento) is different, that's great, but there's no reason to bank on that," Williams said.
Northey Tretheway, spokesman for the Restore Our Creek Coalition, also indicated pessimism for the future.
"I'm always hopeful, but you can't say you're expecting a good outcome, because everything is done in secret," Tretheway said.
However, longtime Superfund watchdog Fritz Daily offered a ray of hope.
"I'm really cautiously optimistic," Daily said. "I think Benevento cares, and I believe he wants to do the right thing."