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Montana's congressional delegation rallies for Restore Our Creek Coalition

Montana's congressional delegation rallies for Restore Our Creek Coalition

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Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler visits Butte and Anaconda Superfund sites

Andrew Wheeler, the Environmental Protection Agency's administrator, right, and former EPA Region 8 Administrator Doug Benevento listen to long-time Superfund watchdog Fritz Daily last year. Montana's congressional leadership have taken up Restore Our Creek Coalition's rallying cry that it wants a fully restored upper Silver Bow Creek.

Montana’s congressional leaders have taken up the Restore Our Creek Coalition’s cause of demanding a fully restored upper Silver Bow Creek from Texas Avenue to the confluence at George Street.

Sens. Jon Tester, a Democrat, and Steve Daines, a Republican, and Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte sent letters Wednesday expressing concern and disappointment over the consent decree negotiators’ statements in early April that fell short of promising a fully restored upper Silver Bow Creek.

The consent-decree negotiators, which include the Environmental Protection Agency, Atlantic Richfield Company, the state and the county, said there would be money set aside to partially fund a "lined water feature" but the community would have to come up with some of the money and balked at spending money for an engineering and feasability study for the "feature."

Tester’s letter was sent to Andrew Wheeler, Environmental Protection Agency administrator, only. Victoria Scordato, Tester’s Washington, D.C.-based spokesperson, said by email that Tester focused on EPA because the federal agency is the lead decision-maker and “the main federal entity involved.”

But Daines and Gianforte, who sent one letter signed by both of the Republicans, addressed their letter to the EPA, Dave Palmer, Butte-Silver Bow County chief executive, Patricia Gallery, vice president of Atlantic Richfield Company, and Gov. Steve Bullock.

Daines and Gianforte say they want the negotiators to provide a list of obstacles to restoring the upper portion of the creek and want to know why the negotiators call it a “water channel.”

Daines and Gianforte also want the negotiators to provide an alternative remedy that would enable “full restoration of the creek that would complement the remedy.”

Daines and Gianforte said they are “disappointed” the proposed remedy doesn’t include full restoration of Silver Bow Creek.

“The Butte area has been plagued by decades of uncertainty,’ Daines and Gianforte wrote.

Tester said he is “troubled” over the letter EPA sent to the coalition last month in which EPA said it would not “pursue even a basic engineering analysis to determine if stream restoration is feasible.”

Restore Our Creek Coalition wants the negotiators to fund a technical feasibility study to prove that a fully restored creek is possible through the stretch of town from Texas Avenue to George Street at the Visitor's Center. But Dave Palmer, B-SB chief executive, said last month that since, in his view, a creek wouldn't flow through the town for another 40 to 50 years, that was a "total waste of money."

The letters that have gone back and forth between Restore Our Creek Coalition and the consent-decree negotiators have not only not appeased the coalition, but instead have stoked the fire for the Butte-based community group. Restore Our Creek Coalition expressed disappointment last month over how long it took the negotiators to respond to the coalition (five months) and over the proposed “lined water feature,” which is not what the coalition says it wants to run through the middle of Butte.

Northey Tretheway, Restore Our Creek Coalition spokesperson, said he hopes the letters will make a difference.

“They have got to be more responsive,” he said of the negotiators.

Tretheway said the coalition is particularly concerned over the fact that the negotiators have not responded yet to the last letter sent by the coalition in mid-April. Tretheway said it’s been almost three weeks.

That worries Tretheway because EPA set the clock ticking recently for the consent decree to be signed by mid-August. 

Tester also took up the mantle for Restore Our Creek on the negotiators' matching funds plan.

The negotiators said in early April there would be some money set aside from the “Butte settlement” after the consent decree is signed, but how much there will be has not been disclosed, and they added that the community would have to come up with the rest.

The “Butte settlement” refers to the fact that Atlantic Richfield is going to reach an undisclosed financial agreement with the state. According to an agreement in principle reached last year, the Department of Environmental Quality will use part of the money to clean up Blacktail Creek from east of the Lexington Avenue Bridge to the confluence.

There is expected to be some additional money from that settlement that the state can then put into an interest-bearing account towards a creek. The money could grow while the hand-in-glove remediation and restoration is underway throughout other parts of town.

That money is intended as a match for community funding.

“The additional suggestion that the community pay for the creek restoration itself is wildly off-base,” Tester wrote.

Andrew Mutter, director of communications for EPA Region 8, said the agency is “reviewing the letters” and “will respond accordingly.”

Palmer was not available for comment but Eric Hassler, county Superfund operations and maintenance manager, said he could not comment because he hasn’t seen the letter. Mollie Maffei, deputy county attorney, said she hasn’t seen the letter from Daines and Gianforte yet either, but also said the county is planning to talk with congressional leaders, the date just hasn’t been set yet.

Marissa Perry, Gov. Bullock’s spokesperson, said Daines and Tester will “receive a full response to their inquiries.”

Atlantic Richfield did not respond to a request for comment.

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Environmental and natural resources reporter for the Montana Standard.

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