The judicial approval of the Butte Hill consent decree came much more quickly than many people expected given the short amount of time U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon took to review the agreed-upon decree and the many comments that had been filed by community members in the previous 30-day period.
Whether or not the consent decree received adequate judicial deliberation before being set in stone, or slag, by the judge's signature is no longer of any consequence. After all, as the murderous Macbeth declaimed, "If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly."
What is important now is moving forward.
The work enumerated in the decree is not everything community members want. But we are not of the baby-with-the-bathwater mindset here. What is spelled out is much more than EPA could have mandated with a unilateral order. And if anyone thinks this community is done advocating for a better cleanup and end use for the "first mile" of the Columbia headwaters, "anyone" would be mistaken.
To go all Old English once again, there's many a slip twixt the cup and the lip.
Indeed, there are several areas where additional work, beyond that spelled out in the decree, may be necessary, and we urge the community to be vigilant as the cleanup progresses.
Blacktail Creek deserves to be totally restored to maximal condition, opening the cutthroat fishery in the cleanup region all the way from the Highlands foothills to the lower Clark Fork.
The Butte Reduction Works cleanup may well need to include a mile of reconstructed — and lined — creek channel, and even the ambitious work plan set forth in the decree may not be enough.
We must be sure that the removal of contaminants from Northside Tailings, Diggings East and Blacktail Berm are all comprehensive enough to give the creek a chance.
And that much-maligned, misnamed and troubled stretch of Upper Silver Bow Creek north of the confluence with Blacktail Creek, needs to be thoroughly cleaned and reshaped to flow free from Texas Avenue south.
The shamefully still-deadly (to fish) stretch of the Upper Clark Fork between Warm Springs and Deer Lodge, ordered to be remediated years ago, is a perfect metaphor for what might happen with any of the above scenarios on the Butte Hill. It all comes down to execution. If any of those work plans are inordinately delayed or do not ultimately pass muster, the public must demand better.
We hope Butte gets the cleanup it deserves. But just because there's a plan in place is no reason to be less than attentive to this process in the months and years ahead.