The resignation of the most recent EPA community involvement coordinator for Butte and Anaconda is just one personnel occurrence. But it is also a discouraging symptom of a process that, despite progress in the past year and a half, still seems endless, and endlessly beset with bureaucratic barriers.

While the tenure of EPA Regional Administrator Doug Benevento was marked by positive developments, we are concerned that some of that progress may only be superficial.

We understand there are negotiations afoot for a plan to design and fund an actual creek in the Upper Silver Bow Creek corridor. If so, that's real progress, and we would applaud the successful conclusion of such negotiations loudly and long.

But so much remains to be done that it's hardly time to pop any corks. Accomplishment as it is viewed from altitude in Washington and accomplishment right here on the ground are very different.

For example, the full partnership and boots-on-the-ground knowledge of the state Natural Resource Damage Program should be used to the fullest in devising Butte Hill cleanup work plans and carrying them out. Last year's agreement in principle seems to have left that group with less of a role than it should have.

For another example, there should be absolutely no doubt about the availability of Silver Lake water for significant Silver Bow Creek flows. That issue should have been put to bed with the successful grassroots litigation that codified Butte's right to that water years ago.

And for a third example, we believe the current effort to quantify the community's Superfund-related attitudes toward public health, while well-meaning, is utterly inadequate. Rather than spending money to do a survey of attitudes with scant response, the EPA needs to quit dodging this issue and commission thoroughgoing health studies in both Butte and Anaconda.

Efforts to discredit or dismiss recent independent health surveys seem petty and counterproductive. What we need, after more than a century of mining and smelting followed by more than 35 years of Superfund, is a thoroughgoing, unassailable data set that will answer public questions and provide a blueprint for public-health policy going forward.

While of course our well-administered Butte-Silver Bow County Health Department has a role, this is a federal government issue. EPA and the Centers for Disease Control, namely its Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, need to stop shadowboxing with this issue and force a comprehensive study of health and mortality in Butte-Silver Bow and Anaconda-Deer Lodge counties that will provide that data. As long as these questions are dodged or deflected, Butte can never truly heal.

Yes, we need a community involvement coordinator. Yes, we need CTEC's valuable informative role. But we disagree that it's difficult to engage the public on these issues. Restore Our Creek coalition has demonstrated that to be false. What we really need, to increase public engagement, is concrete action toward consent decrees that include a creek in Butte and a comprehensive lead and arsenic cleanup in Anaconda; and honest engagement by all the negotiating parties on the overriding issue of public health.

If we get less than that, innumerable surveys and coordinators won't engage people in a process that they believe to be fundamentally flawed and insufficient.

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