Thank goodness the federal government shutdown is over. Our fellow citizens, including the employees of the Environmental Protection Agency, are back to work. Now we look forward to the resumption of the Consent Decree process for the Butte Hill, including Silver Bow Creek.
Before the shutdown, BP/Arco, Butte-Silver Bow, the state of Montana and the EPA — as a result of the early-2018 “Agreement in Principle” among the responsible parties — proposed a design of a park and recreation system in the center of Butte along upper Silver Bow Creek that includes removal of mine waste tailings from the area.
BSB and BP/Arco and their contractor, LSI, presented the conceptual design to the public in late 2018. Their presentation included fishing ponds, playground areas, parks, and an assortment of amenities that are extremely well-suited for our community in the corridor where a century of contaminants now lie. However, their design, nice as it is, includes a storm-water system with two small recirculating water features as a substitute for a restored Silver Bow Creek.
The BSB, BP/Arco, and LSI design process, not surprisingly, happens to reflect much of the effort by our coalition over the past three to four years when Restore Our Creek Coalition (ROCC) went through an extensive process of working with the community and listening to our fellow friends and citizens about what they want to see in the center of town. As a matter of fact, the results of that long ROCC public process, which actively engaged nearly 1000 Butte citizens and was supported in the form of more than 3,500 signatures, produced amenities that are mirrored by much of what BP/Arco and BSB produced. The people of Butte, however, did not ask for recirculating water features — they overwhelmingly asked for the removal of the mining tailings and a restored Silver Bow Creek.
Yes, we all can see from the yeoman’s work put forth by BP/Arco and BSB that they have heard most of our message — but not the central part, the most important part. The Butte community wants mine wastes removed (which the responsible parties say they will do), and a restored Silver Bow Creek beginning at Texas Avenue and traversing through the center of Butte to its confluence with Blacktail Creek.
Just west of Butte (but not in Butte), Silver Bow Creek is beautifully restored for 26 miles all the way to the Warm Springs ponds. Even the Milltown dam area near Missoula is fully remediated and restored. Many argue that cleaning up and restoring those areas before dealing with Butte’s upper Silver Bow Creek didn’t make sense. However, now is the time to complete the final (actually the 1st) mile of Silver Bow Creek here in Butte. And it should be done the right way — the way that Butte needs and deserves in order to have a cleanup that this community can look at with pride.
There is much work still to come, but the EPA is hoping to have a CD complete by mid-2019. EPA Regional Administrator Doug Benevento says the process is taking a little more time because, among other things, the parties are listening closely to local input. This holds out promise for a solution that honors what the people of Butte want. That promise is critical because only the final CD issued this year can set the stage for a future restored Silver Bow Creek running through the center of Butte from Texas Avenue behind the Civic Center all the way to Blacktail Creek near Montana Street.
Throughout 2018, we were assured by the EPA that the elements of the agreement in principle “did not preclude” the accomplishment of ROCC’s and Butte’s goal of having a Silver Bow Creek Headwaters Park with a flowing, meandering, Silver Bow Creek from Texas Avenue to Montana Street. Now, the responsible parties must include a creek design in the CD as proof that their initial assertion is not just rhetoric.
Let’s hope that BP/Arco, BSB, EPA and the state of Montana do listen to ALL of Butte’s message and include a future restored Silver Bow Creek in their final plan and in the Consent Decree itself.