We’ve come a long way. The recently revealed plans for a park in the Upper Silver Bow Creek corridor show a ton of commitment by the principals in the Superfund talks, particularly on the part of Atlantic Richfield, which is paying for the lion’s share. Taken in the context of the entire cleanup plan outlined in the agreement in principle, Butte can now see a path to a transformational cleanup – the cleanup that Butte deserves and the cleanup that will assure Butte’s future.
A significant issue remains – the restored creek that should be the centerpiece of the corridor.
Through a lot of hard work, Restore Our Creek Coalition members have collaborated with Arco to come up with a basic plan for a creek that would not in any way interfere with the necessary remedial objectives of the cleanup. It would not interfere with the storm-water retention system. It would meet the expectations and the deep desire of the community for the corridor’s end use. And, once the creek is incorporated into it, the cleanup plan would meet those expectations and desires as well.
After years of palaver about the impossibility of such a body of water, it is clear now that the creek is not only possible but tangible, visible, achievable. It is, like so much, simply a question of resolve and money.
The governor of Montana has expressed his strong support for a creek. And he has skin in the game: It was Steve Bullock’s determination and commitment that made removing the Parrot tailings a reality instead of a fantasy.
Butte owes him a debt of gratitude for that. It was a community-changing decision, validated by the fact that the excavation has encountered far more pollution than originally thought. Without that move, the concept of a creek would have been stillborn, and so would any real hope of permanently cleaning the corridor.
EPA Regional Administrator Doug Benevento has been strongly supportive of the community's vision of a creek, even though, strictly speaking, the authority to require an end use of the corridor is beyond his immediate purview. Butte owes Benevento its gratitude as well, for getting the cleanup unstuck after more than a decade of stasis.
So who will step up now, in equally heroic fashion, and make the creek happen? We believe Butte-Silver Bow and Atlantic Richfield, working with the state and EPA, must do so – perhaps with an assist from Montana Resources.
Arco has already spent upwards of a billion dollars in Butte, Montana. And Butte-Silver Bow has already contributed an enormous amount of energy, expertise and knowhow to the cleanup, and already-announced plans under the agreement in principle provide for the county to do much, much more.
So it may seem like a lot to ask, this final step.
But we remind the principals of their obligation to the citizens of Butte, many of them descendants of men who gave everything they had, including in all too many cases their lives and the lives of their colleagues, to get the Richest Hill on Earth to help preserve, defend and enhance the greatest country the planet has ever seen. Particularly after so little expense has been spared in the rest of the cleanup, all the way to the Milltown Dam, it’s very hard to make a case that adequate money isn’t available to clean up and restore the very first mile.
We appreciate the fact that Atlantic Richfield Vice President Patricia Gallery told Restore Our Creek members last week that “we’re still listening” on the creek. And we appreciate what the company has already done – so much so that we can’t understand why Atlantic Richfield would let such a relatively insignificant sum of money stand between community frustration and satisfaction.
For the future, we believe the parties will need to expend a lot of energy, thought and, quite possibly, expense, on emerging community health issues. But other than that, coming to agreement on the creek could be the most significant remaining commitment to be made.
Let’s make it, and get on with it.