"We're not here to celebrate," EPA Regional Administrator Doug Benevento said Friday. And he's right. Arriving at an agreement in principle between all parties for the Butte Hill cleanup is not anything like actually having the work done. But it is nonetheless a momentous milestone for this town, and some congratulations are in order.
The first to be congratulated should be Benevento himself. Anyone who thinks an agreement after 12 years of on-again, off-again negotiations is a coincidence of timing with his arrival three months ago as regional administrator is in a fantasy world. He has accomplished what many others could not. He radiated sincerity and purpose, and established himself as an honest broker, no strings attached, who used the hammer EPA always had but rarely employed to bring the parties together.
Many of us have found cause from time to time to criticize bureaucrats, particularly those of the federal stripe. But what Benevento did here is the essence of public service, and we are grateful.
We are also grateful to the community of Butte, in the form of the Restore Our Creek Coalition, which has harnessed the grass roots, the clear desires of the people of Butte, and pushed that vision constantly. It is a clear indication of its success that Benevento referenced Restore Our Creek's vision for the Upper Silver Bow Creek corridor Friday, saying that the agreement reached late Thursday night "means that vision is achievable." Northey Tretheway, Jocelyn Dodge, Ed Simonich, Pat Dudley, Larry Curran and many others in the group should take a bow.
There are so many people here who have worked long and tirelessly to set a course for this cleanup. Many times they have found themselves at loggerheads with one another. But every one of them is owed our thanks, including local, state and federal government employees; legislators, chief executives and commissioners, present and past; passionate advocates like Sister Mary Jo McDonald, Fritz Daily, Ron Davis and Mary Kay Craig; longtime Superfund coordinator Jon Sesso; and competent and powerful local leaders like Mick Ringsak and Evan Barrett.
Gov. Steve Bullock is to be commended for committing to clean up the Parrot Tailings, even though the work to accomplish that goal has been stymied at various turns. While we are not privy to the terms of this agreement, which are still shrouded in the mists of an unfortunate and unwarranted federal court gag order, we hope and expect that the final result will include an Arco-funded completion of that project.
Arco, too, has earned our thanks for getting to yes in these discussions. "We have wanted this for a long time. We really have," said BP Vice President Patricia Gallery on Friday.
So has Butte.
And for all the criticism that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and the Trump Administration have taken over things like massive budget-cut proposals, Trump's campaign vow to leave only "tidbits" of the agency intact, and Pruitt's coziness with industry, it must be pointed out that the Pruitt EPA managed to do what eight years of the Obama EPA could not. And Pruitt himself was directly involved in pushing the agency's progress on Butte.
It should be clear to everyone that we are nowhere near the end of this process. Many critical decisions are yet to be made. Many choices will present themselves, each of them critical to the town's future. So all of us need to be vigilant and engaged. Suffice it to say that our skepticism, born of the process' secrecy, has survived intact. The devil is in the details.
But as Benevento said Friday, paraphrasing Winston Churchill: We may not be at the beginning of the end but we are at the end of the beginning.
After 35 years, that's very good to hear.