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Smelter workers at quitting time in 1942

Smeltermen leave work at the end of their shift in this 1942 Library of Congress photo.

Anaconda residents will get their first taste in early January of what the rest of Anaconda’s Superfund cleanup could look like.

Though specific details on exactly when and where have not been established yet, officials are penciling in early January as the month in which the public will be able to start getting involved in their town's Superfund fate.

The county, the state, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Atlantic Richfield have been hashing out that fate for the last year behind closed doors. The table of officials settled on a verbal agreement in late July. The same group reached a conceptual agreement, with no public notice, on Oct. 11. 

U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon granted the motion this week to allow the EPA, state and county officials, and Atlantic Richfield Company to begin releasing details of what the agencies and parties have said yes to and what the remaining cleanup work in Anaconda could look like. EPA and Atlantic Richfield filed the motion with Haddon Tuesday. He granted the motion the same day.

EPA released that news Thursday afternoon.

The information will not come to the public all at once. Similar to the process Butte residents went through earlier this year, the plan will be rolled out in stages.

That gives the public a chance to consider the remedy and respond to the proposals before the agencies form a decision etched in stone, according to EPA through email.

The agency added that rolling out the information in bits and pieces also gives officials time to produce paperwork that is necessary.

The damage comes from around 100 years of copper smelting. The Washoe Smelter, which rained down arsenic, lead, cadmuim, copper, and zinc on the town, locked its doors for good in 1980. Anaconda has been on the National Priorities List since 1983.

Bill Everett, Anaconda-Deer Lodge County chief executive, said earlier this week he is anxious to be able to tell residents what is in the agreement. Rose Nyman, longtime community activist, also said earlier this week that residents are asking questions and want to know what their cleanup is going to look like. 

Although it remains unclear at this stage, it appears that the county’s direct agreement with Atlantic Richfield has likely been rolled into the Superfund cleanup plan. Butte-Silver Bow County formed its own direct agreement, which provided several million dollars to the county for a variety of concerns, with Atlantic Richfield in 2006.

Anaconda tried to reach its own direct agreement with Atlantic Richfield in 2016, but it proved unpopular with residents and fell apart as a result. That agreement would have given Anaconda around $120 million over 100 years. That agreement included Anaconda receiving $1 million at signature and $250,000 for community enhancement. At the time, at least one resident said $250,000 for community enhancement was a "drop in the bucket."

One of the cleanup questions yet to be answered is whether EPA will seek to waive state water quality standards for cadmium, copper, lead, and zinc for upper Willow Creek and the tributaries that feed upper Mill Creek.

The waterways would still have to meet federal water quality standards, which protect humans and fish.

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Nat'l Resources / General Reporter

Environmental and natural resources reporter for the Montana Standard.

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