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Partial Anaconda cleanup plan lodged with federal court
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Partial Anaconda cleanup plan lodged with federal court

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Slag piles

A portion of the slag piles in Anaconda are pictured in this file photo. 

The EPA announced Thursday that a decree outlining part of the cleanup of the Anaconda Smelter Superfund site has been lodged in federal court.

The "Partial Consent Decree" requires the Atlantic Richfield Company to take actions to clean surface water — and remediate the town's piles of smelter slag.

The decree also sets out the operations and maintenance plan for the Old Works Golf Course.

Meanwhile, Atlantic Richfield will continue its other cleanup operations in the Smelter City, as set out in current orders, while the parties finish up a site-wide consent decree.

The biggest impact of the partial decree filed Thursday is the slag cleanup.

For a long time, the slag, dumped in two huge piles, was thought to be relatively inert. But last year, an EPA study determined that arsenic in the slag was considerably more absorbable in the body than previously thought.

At that point, sources close to the negotiations said, the remediation of the slag piles became more complex and more urgent.

The plan will mean the slag will be almost completely capped.

For the past several years, U.S. Minerals has run a plant converting slag to roofing materials, industrial abrasives, and other products. The plant has been plagued by federal workplace safety violations, and several employees have been found to have concerning levels of arsenic in their bodies.

The work plan under the partial decree allows for the plant's continued operations, although if more violations are reported, the EPA will have the option of ordering a more complete capping that would close down the business.

Also, entrepreneur Rick Tabish has long touted plans to build a large plant making proppant for the fracking industry out of the slag. While Tabish has won approval from the state Department of Environmental Quality for an air quality permit for the first of several furnaces his company, FX Solutions, proposed to build, the effort has so far been stymied by an inability to secure and transmit sufficient power to the site.

The plan lodged with the court would allow for such a project if it should progress to the point of operation. The EPA and Atlantic Richfield recognized the economic development aspects of such a proposal.

“This Consent Decree is a significant step forward in the continued cleanup of the Anaconda Site. It is the product of years of negotiating with the Consent Decree parties, as well as engagement with the Anaconda-Deer Lodge government, and marks a milestone toward revitalizing the community through residential and commercial development,” Governor Steve Bullock said.

“The Consent Decrees for both Butte and Anaconda are necessary and long-awaited agreements for cleanup within those communities and will allow the citizens of Anaconda and Butte to move past the long-term impacts of mining and smelting. I extend my sincerest gratitude to state, local, and federal officials, as well as the Atlantic Richfield Company for their hard work,” he added.

"The enforceable commitments in the proposed consent decree will ensure the long-term viability of the Anaconda cleanup, said EPA Associate Deputy Administrator Douglas Benevento. "This announcement is another step forward in the ongoing cleanup of Anaconda and I applaud the work of the negotiating teams from DOJ, EPA, MDEQ and Atlantic Richfield."

Gregory Sopkin, EPA Region 8 administrator, said, "Over the last several decades, EPA and MDEQ have made great strides in ensuring the cleanup of open space, residential areas, creeks and groundwater by Atlantic Richfield throughout Anaconda-Deer Lodge County. The cleanup of contaminated soils that impact surface waters and the remediation of the largest slag piles at Anaconda builds on that process."

“This is another great step forward for Anaconda as the EPA works to move them off the US Superfund List by 2025,” U.S. Sen. Steve  Daines said. “I was in Anaconda just last week. This partial Consent Decree is vital to moving economic development projects like the new 'Forge' hotel and RV park to fruition while holding Atlantic Richfield accountable, ensuring this community is safe and healthy for decades to come.”

Loren Burmeister, Atlantic Richfield liability manager, said, "Atlantic Richfield is eager to advance this important work for the benefit of the Anaconda community and surrounding areas."

The U.S. Department of Justice will publish a formal notice of the lodging of the decree in the Federal Register, announcing that the DOJ is accepting public comment on the document for a period of 30 days from the date the notice is published.

The decree is expected to be publicly available next week.

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