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The news that the Environmental Protection Agency has found new metals pollution from groundwater in Silver Bow and Blacktail creeks is disturbing.

What's equally frustrating is that because of the confidentiality order that is keeping the details of the recently reached agreement in principle on the Butte Cleanup secret, we have no way of evaluating how county, state and federal agencies are responding to this new information, or what they plan to do about it.

We are reduced to hearing conflicting speculation about whether the newly discovered pollutants might be coming from the Parrot tailings, or from some source closer to the creek.

This new report certainly supports the long-held local suspicion that the current remedy -- the buried slotted pipe that is supposed to be removing contaminants from the plume of groundwater polluted by the Parrot waste -- is not working effectively.

We must presume that some mechanism for addressing this concerning new discovery has been reached within the consent-decree process, since the negotiators were fully aware of the EPA's new finding.

It's been a month since federal and state negotiators, as the "agreement in principle" on the consent decree was announced, promised to ask U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon to remove the gag order. Yet no such petition has yet been filed with the court.

This leads us to a "how many federal lawyers does it take to file a motion" question.

Or perhaps the question should be, what in the agreement do the parties not want the public to know about yet?

We can't help but observe that if the case brought to the federal court in 2016 by The Montana Standard and The Silver Bow Creek Headwaters Coalition to remove the confidentiality order had not been brushed aside by Haddon on technical grounds, we would not still be here shadow-boxing in the dark.

As we have long argued, water does not wait for bureaucracy. The fact that while negotiations have continued on the Butte Hill cleanup for 12 years, groundwater (and stormwater) have been inexorably carrying pollutants to the creeks should continue to motivate all of us.

State and federal agencies should get the mush out of their mouths and  let the public know what has been agreed to and how this latest threat to Butte's present and future is going to be met.


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