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Is it possible for Butte folks to enjoy a clean and healthful environment alongside our ongoing active mining activities, and in the midst of Superfund remedies scattered around town from our legacy of past mining-related contamination?

This question lies at the heart of the work of a couple of community organizations — CTEC (Citizens Technical Environmental Committee) and ROCC (Restore Our Creek Coalition) — and both groups believe that yes, it IS possible. But it’s not easy.

For instance, ROCC has spent the past five years encouraging members of the Butte community to envision a natural parklike environment surrounding a restored Silver Bow Creek running from the lower edge of the active mine at Texas Avenue, through the heart of Butte’s riparian corridor. In 2019 this vision was challenged by the emergence of EPA’s plans for the construction of storm-water control ponds throughout the corridor. These ponds are deemed a necessary part of EPA’s plan to prevent contaminated sediments from getting into Silver Bow Creek — which is a goal we all support.

But it wasn’t clear whether filling up the corridor with storm-water retention ponds would stand in the way of the future beneficial use of the space for a restored, meandering Silver Bow Creek in the basin. EPA leadership assured the community that the planned storm-water pond system “would not preclude” the restoration of the creek as envisioned in ROCC’s 2016 publication Silver Bow Creek Headwaters Park. That assurance left many folks unconvinced, and so midway through 2019 ROCC proposed to EPA a brief conceptual study of the feasibility of developing a restored Silver Bow Creek amid the remedial features in the basin built as part of Superfund-mandated cleanups. In response EPA provided funds through CTEC’s long-standing Technical Assistance Grant program to hire an independent technical firm to evaluate what it will take to make the envisioned creek restoration compatible with the Superfund remedy.

That feasibility evaluation, carried out through the end of 2019 by Butte’s own Water and Environmental Technologies (WET) is complete. EPA found a way to provide funds to answer the community’s specific concerns about its future plans, and CTEC and ROCC have worked together to answer those concerns. The evaluation is conceptual — it is not a design document — but it does address most of the critical questions about potential obstacles and how to overcome them and cost issues. For both of these organizations, EPA’s actions have answered a pervasive concern: do the agencies in charge of Superfund remedies care about what their cleanups mean for the future of the community? EPA’s support for this independent review clearly showed that our concerns for Butte’s future DO matter to them.

Members of the Butte community will soon have an opportunity to see the terms of the final CD — the Consent Decree for Butte (technically, for “BPSOU” — the Butte Priority Soils Operable Unit of our massive Superfund site). First and foremost, we hope that the CD itself as presented does not preclude the restored creek as the WET analysis is based upon what we have been told about the CD, but not the CD itself. Furthermore, in that document, we expect to see a commitment in the form of a trust fund which obligates some guaranteed funds for such redevelopment work for Silver Bow Creek along this corridor, from the edge of the active mine, down to the confluence with Blacktail Creek. The cost estimates in the feasibility evaluation completed by WET will provide context for community-wide discussions about the adequacy of that trust fund to launch the restoration of the creek.

On Tuesday January 14 at 6:30 p.m. in the Copper Lounge of the Student Union Building at Montana Tech, Elizabeth Erickson from WET will lead a presentation and discussion of the feasibility review’s findings about the restoration of Upper Silver Bow Creek. This meeting is hosted jointly by CTEC and ROCC, and with Montana Tech’s generous support of its meeting facilities—with parking available along Park Street.

Can we have it all? A clean first mile of Silver Bow Creek running through town, winding from its origins just at the edge of the active mine, past the Civic Center, through the constructed storm-water ponds meant to keep heavy metals on the Hill from entering the creek? We think we can. And we believe we deserve it. It’s a promise for our future.

Come to this presentation; we think you’ll agree and help bring it to fruition.

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Bill Macgregor is a board member of the Citizens Technical Environmental Committee, and represents CTEC on the Restore Our Creek Coalition.

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