Lush grass, wetlands vibrant with birds, trails shaded by trees and bushes, a 3,500-seat amphitheater, and a multi-use 150-seat performance space is a far cry from what the center of Butte looks like now.
But according to Stacey Robinson, a principal with Billings-based Land Design Inc., a landscape architecture firm, that is what Butte could become.
Robinson presented this vision during a slideshow presentation Thursday evening at the Butte Brewing Company, where about 70 people gathered to see the results of a series of community design workshops that have allowed locals to provide input about the plan.
Atlantic Richfield Company hired Robinson’s firm to design the proposed 120-acre park from Casey Street to the Slag Wall Canyon area west of South Montana Street.
During Thursday's meeting, various questions about the future park were raised, including one about what would happen to George Street, which will bisect the proposed park.
Dave Palmer, Butte-Silver Bow chief executive, said the county did not want to close George Street because diverted traffic in that area would increase traffic on other nearby routes. But, he said, a resident could petition to have George Street vacated, and the county would consider it.
Other questions came up such as whether or not the public will be able to have meaningful input on the final documents expected in the coming weeks. Those documents, a consent decree and an amendment to the Record of Decision, would cement this proposed park as well as other aspects of the cleanup in place.
There will be public comment periods for those documents.
But Loren Burmeister, liability business manager for Atlantic Richfield, said the “whole process” of repeated design meetings the county and EPA have held over the past year is “how the public has been able to make meaningful comment.”
“This (proposed park) stems from that,” he said.
If it does become a reality, here’s what the public can expect, according to Atlantic Richfield:
• The 3,500-seat amphitheater would be built in the Slag Wall Canyon area just south of where the former Red Zone is located on South Montana Street.
• There would also be space available for a restaurant that could look out over a pool of water (a stormwater basin) nearby. There could be a waterfall or similar feature to "provide better appeal."
• The 150- to 250-seat multi-use performance space would be located near Kaw Avenue and George Street. It could be used for performances or for educational purposes.
• A lined 1-acre fishing pond would be located south of Harrison Avenue. It would be up to 15-feet deep, and the ground would be elevated with clean fill dirt so the pond would not intersect with contaminated groundwater.
• There would be 160 trees dispersed at five trees per 250 feet and planted along the upper Silver Bow Creek channel. The channel will not change, because it is a stormwater drain.
• There will be two areas for children to play in. One, located in the Kaw Avenue and George Street area, would have play equipment for kids. The other would be off of Kaw Avenue, across from the KOA. These would be interpretive play areas. There would also be natural play areas interspersed throughout the site.
• A basin to capture stormwater and contaminated sediment would be located north of George Street. The sediment containing the heavy metals would drop out at that point, leaving the stormwater to move on through a larger basin. Supplemental water from a municipal water source would be added in the dry summer months to maintain the pools. During the winter months, the basin would be expected to be emptied or frozen over. If emptied, visitors to the park would see frozen soil where the water had been.
• Constructed wetland systems would be built adjacent to the stormwater pools to improve the riparian characteristics of the sites.
• There would be a variety of trails throughout, plus a boardwalk near the Silver Bow and Blacktail Creek confluence. There would also be an events plaza which would be a multi-use space for things such as craft bazaars off of Kaw Avenue across from the KOA.
Another question that came up during the meeting was how Butte-Silver Bow would manage such a large space.
Bryson said Atlantic Richfield will amend its allocation agreement with the county and set funds aside to pay for maintaining the park forever.
Many, including vocal members of Restore Our Creek Coalition, seemed pleased with the presentation.
Northey Tretheway, Restore Our Creek Coaltion spokesperson, said Atlantic Richfield "listened to us."
Bryson said Atlantic Richfield is planning to construct a space contoured for the purpose of a creek that would begin at George Street and travel to Kaw Avenue.
Jenny Heglund, 33, also said Atlantic Richfield “really listened.” She is excited that visitors to the town won’t see just the substation on South Montana Street when they enter town.
“This is going to put us on the map with Bozeman and Missoula,” she said. “We’re Butte, and we can still be beautiful.”
Land Design Inc. is perhaps best known for designing Shiloh Conservation Area in Billings. It acts as a stormwater facility for the city while serving the dual purpose of being a park for the public.
Robinson said his company also designed a master plan for a contaminated site in Great Falls.
The state has yet to reveal its plans. Darryl Reed, Butte Hill state project manager, said the state won’t finalize those until after the consent decree is signed.
The state will remove the berm of contamination that lies behind the visitors center (often referred to as the Blacktail Creek Berm) and the area around it and will take out the tailings in the bed, bank, and floodplain of Blacktail Creek from the visitors center eastward to an area east of the Lexington Avenue bridge.
While Atlantic Richfield will get to work next spring on the plans — and plans to have the work complete by 2024 — the state won't do its part for another three to four years out. When asked if the state would potentially not negotiate for enough money from Atlantic Richfield to complete the job properly — an issue that has happened with other state-led cleanup sites in and near Butte — Reed pointed to two words on a map: 16 acres.
"The likelihood of cost overruns are less likely on 16 acres," he said.