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Silver Bow Creek

Silver Bow Creek at the confluence with Blacktail Creek. 

The Environmental Protection Agency says the consent decree negotiators could not meet the Friday deadline after saying earlier this week that they would.

The EPA said Tuesday the agency and other negotiators would be able to reach “pens down” by the Friday deadline set before. But the notice came too soon. Chris Wardell, EPA community involvement section chief for Region 8, said on Friday in an email that the parties have requested more time to “address a handful of technical issues that remain unresolved.”

Now the EPA says the negotiators have until “mid-week next week” to get to “pens down.”

Wardell also wrote that Greg Sopkin, the new EPA region 8 administrator, will be getting “daily updates to ensure continued progress is being made.”

This isn't the first deadline the EPA and the other negotiators, including the county, state and Atlantic Richfield, have failed to reach. Former EPA Region 8 Administrator Doug Benevento set repeated deadlines on this final phase over the last two years and each time, the negotiators blow past the set date.

Once “pens down” happens, the negotiators will have to stop their 13-year-long confidential talks on what, exactly, Atlantic Richfield Company will do to complete its Superfund remediation on the Butte Hill. That means that residents will know precisely what Atlantic Richfield is still responsible for and once that work is complete, the Superfund designation on the town can be lifted.

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Wardell also wrote, that insofar as the further process goes, signatures will be gathered and then the document will be sent to the court.

“When the discussions are concluded, the proposed consent decree must be approved and signed by senior officials at the Department of Justice, EPA, the state of Montana, Atlantic Richfield, and Butte-Silver Bow County before DOJ can submit (the document) to the court. After the consent decree is submitted, interested persons will have 30 days to comment on it before any further action is taken,” Wardell wrote. 

Wardell didn’t mention how long the county will have to make a decision on whether to sign or not. Restore Our Creek Coalition is hopeful that the negotiators will give them until early December to find out if it’s possible that a real creek can be built from Texas Avenue and George Street at the confluence. Restore Our Creek Coalition has long dreamed of a fully restored upper Silver Bow Creek in that stretch of town.

The EPA first put parts of the area on the National Priorities List in 1983.

Businessman Ron Davis, who is a creek activist, started laughing when he heard the news.

“Does this surprise you in any way, shape or form?” He asked rhetorically. “We’ve been waiting 35 years for this project. It shouldn’t surprise anybody.”

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