Another part of the new Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to tackle thousands of acres of naked and damaged hills has already been going on for nearly a decade.
With $13.3 million in hand from the state’s 2008 settlement with Atlantic Richfield Company, the Natural Resource Damage Program began reclaiming a portion of Stuckey Ridge, which lines the north side of Anaconda, in 2010. While that work is done, the NRD has several hundred more acres to go on Mt. Haggin Wildlife Management Area.
Greg Mullen, NRD environmental science specialist, said by phone last week that Stuckey Ridge got “hammered” by the nearly 100 years of smelting that sent metals and Sulpher Dioxide into the air over Anaconda.
Stuckey Ridge was a “moonscape,” Mullen said, before the NRD began its work, which cost about $3.5 million alone.
NRD’s bang for its buck on Stuckey Ridge included tilling with lime to rebalance the pH and planting grass seed.
Some of the 480 acres of state-owned Stuckey Ridge land could not be reclaimed, Mullen said. Some of it was too steep, some of it considered “historical” because of its proximity to the remaining flues from the 1883 Old Works Smelter, and some of it rocky.
So out of 480 acres, the NRD took care of 310 on Stuckey Ridge. That doesn’t mean that all of Stuckey Ridge has been reclaimed. Besides the 170 state-owned land left as is, there are other portions of the ridge visible to the right along Montana Highway 1 as drivers enter Anaconda that is the responsibility of Atlantic Richfield Company.
That work is partially what the EPA’s newly unveiled proposed plan includes in its list of future work for the former smelting city. The EPA is currently seeking public comment on its proposal. (See information box.)
Atlantic Richfield will have thousands of acres to reclaim if the EPA’s new offering goes through as it is currently written.
NRD, too, will have more work to do under the new plan. But that is part of the already agreed upon reclamation Atlantic Richfield and the NRD ironed out years ago in the 2008 settlement.
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The state sued Atlantic Richfield for the loss of the resource due to more than 100 years of mining and smelting. The state won around $320 million from the former oil goliath overall.
NRD has spent $2.5 million so far on Mt. Haggin. That means the state has doled out a total of about $6 million on the Anaconda uplands cleanup.
The state has also earned interest on its original $13.3 settlement, Mullen said. That gain has amounted to roughly $2.5 million annually.
But whether there will be money left over from this NRD wallet is unknown at this stage. Doug Martin, NRD restoration chief, said it will be years yet before the state will be able to answer that question.
Work on Mt. Haggin involves California Creek, which drains into the Big Hole River. The NRD has been working with the Big Hole Watershed Committee on that drainage.
Mullen said California Creek is not that damaged because it is on the other side of the Continental Divide.
Other work the NRD has already begun in a relatively small portion of the 55,000-acre Mt. Haggin Wildlife Management Area will help Mill and Willow creeks. Both of those waterways, as well as California Creek, Lost Creek and Warm Springs Creek, could all potentially see a waiver of Montana water quality standards if, after six years of remediation, the creeks still cannot meet standards.
Mullen says that the problem is copper.
“There’s copper everywhere,” Mullen said.