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According to the Environmental Protection Agency, today the Consent Decree regarding the Butte Priority Soils Operable Unit should be announced and submitted to the CD parties for signature before being submitted to Federal Court. That poses a major problem for the public entities engaged in the process – the Butte-Silver Bow Local Government, the State of Montana and the EPA. For while ARCO/British Petroleum (AR) answers only to its stockholders, our government has a responsibility to the public — the people — in this case mostly to the people of Butte.

After 30 years of waiting on final remediation decisions for the Silver Bow Creek corridor, including more than 12 years behind a shroud of secrecy, those decisions seem to be close at hand. However, before the public CD participants move toward signing the emerging plans, they must honor their commitment to the people of Butte that those plans “will not preclude” a future restored Silver Bow Creek along the corridor from Texas Avenue to a convergence with Blacktail Creek near the Chamber of Commerce/Montana Street.

Let’s review the history of the situation and the “will not preclude” commitment to the people that has been repeatedly advanced by EPA and ALL THE CD PARTIES.

Restore Our Creek Coalition has worked with the community for more than 4 years and went through an extensive public process of listening to our friends and fellow citizens about what they want to see in the center of town and producing plans that reflect the people’s wishes. That long ROCC public process actively engaged nearly 1000 Butte citizens and was supported by more than 3,500 signatures, which overwhelmingly echoed the ROCC/Butte vision that: 1) the toxic acid factory tailings need to be removed from the center of town, 2) amenities need to be provided along the corridor to provide a high quality functional public space for the community, and 3) Silver Bow Creek needs to be restored in the aforementioned corridor.

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To the delight of the Butte community and ROCC, in January of 2018, EPA Regional Administrator Doug Benevento publicly declared that the secret agreements being worked on by EPA, ARCO, BSB and the State were being guided by decisions that “will not preclude” the ability to have the community’s vision for a restored Silver Bow Creek between Texas Ave. and Montana Street. Everyone was elated by his statement, but as those who’ve been associated with our 30 years of Superfund knows, words are words, but the proof is in the pudding. So, over a year ago ROCC asked the CD parties to back up their words with proof that their commitment was real by funding a review that could establish the viability of a future creek in the corridor.

We met with passive resistance for some time. In fact, in a letter of April 11, 2019 the CD parties arbitrarily and without evidence effectively said that “portions” of the creek are not “technically feasible.” But we pushed on seeking the funding to do the review to back up the CD parties’ assertions. Finally the EPA came through with a grant that allows ROCC the opportunity to hire an engineering sub-contractor to determine the truthfulness of the PRP’s “will not preclude” statements from last year.

However, because of the late funding by EPA, it will take approximately two months to complete the review and determine the feasibility for Silver Bow Creek. But if the proposed CD results are announced as scheduled today there will be a clamor for immediate signing of the CD, even before the Silver Bow Creek viability review can be completed.

In order to keep faith with the people of Butte, the public entities involved in the CD process, especially BSB and the state, need to hold off on any process or procedure leading to the signing of the CD until the analysis on Silver Bow Creek feasibility is completed. Remember, the proof is in the pudding, not the rhetoric. If we have waited 30 years, a couple of months waiting for signatures should not be a problem. That is the least that the public bodies, including our Council of Commissioners, owe to the people of Butte.

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Northey Tretheway is the spokesman for the Restore Our Creek Coalition.

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