February 13, 2007

A community meeting in Opportunity last week prompted front page coverage by the Montana Standard on local efforts concerning threats to groundwater and air quality posed by the Anaconda Superfund site. The proposed remediation work at the Anaconda site is under review and possible revision, and the public is encouraged to chime in.

“We’re talking about monitoring the groundwater and ensuring it meets standards,” said technical advisor Jim Kuipers in the Standard interview. “We’re talking about the final cleanup that’s going to be done on yards and attics … (and) the effect that will have on development and redevelopment. We’re talking everything nuts-and-bolts (from) water, land, soil remediation to what should be the next store built in town.”

Not in my back yard
By Erin Nicholes, of The Montana Standard - 02/11/2007

ANACONDA — When Maureen Robinson moved to Opportunity a decade ago, Superfund was just part of the community’s vernacular.

“We’ve been hearing it so long; it was a word that didn’t have any meaning or impact,” she said.

Years later, a decision to move Milltown Dam sediment to Opportunity, a rural community just east of Anaconda, abruptly redefined Superfund.

“I realized that 6 to 12 million cubic yards of mining toxic waste was coming to our back yard from Milltown, and that that decision had been made without asking me,” Robinson said.

[CFRTAC note: less than three million cubic yards will be shipped from the Milltown site.]

Now citizens and officials are trying to prevent those surprises by rallying people for the Superfund game before the final buzzer.

“The final decisions for the next 30 years are being decided over the next six months,” said Jim Kuipers, Anaconda-Deer Lodge County’s Superfund technical adviser. “There hasn’t been enough input in this county as to the final remedies.” Big decisions Simply put, residents have one last chance to shape decisions that will frame Anaconda’s future health, recreation and economy, Kuipers said.

“This really is the ninth inning,” he said. “The ball game is going to have been played.” In Superfund lingo, an upcoming agreement between the Environmental Protection Agency and British Petroleum- Arco — a final consent decree to say exactly how environmental issues must be addressed — is spurring the push for public involvement. Also, the EPA is considering modifications to Records of Decision issued in the 1990s.

“We’re talking about monitoring the groundwater and ensuring it meets standards,” Kuipers said. “We’re talking about the final cleanup that’s going to be done on yards and attics … (and) the effect that will have on development and redevelopment. We’re talking everything nuts-and-bolts (from) water, land, soil remediation to what should be the next store built in town.” But getting average citizens enthused about those topics isn’t simple; the mere mention of the 300-square- mile, 20-year-old site can be a mental turnoff.

“We have to mobilize to get the public involved,” said county Chief Executive Rebecca Guay.

How it applies To that end, upcoming meetings are intended to explain how Superfund applies to people’s lives, and gather input for the EPA to consider in the consent decree.

“The science and technical aspects of Superfund are very hard to understand,” Kuipers said. “We’re making a lot of efforts to simplify that …There are really three things that largely create an interest for the public and a need for the public to become involved.” They are, generally, water quality, redevelopment and contaminated soils.

“These decisions are going to affect people’s lives down the road,” said Robin Saha, a University of Montana environmental studies professor who helped mobilize Opportunity. “There’s nothing more important than the water we drink and the air we breathe.” So far, the public is taking the opportunity to speak up.

At a packed ground and surface water meeting last month, Opportunity residents demanded more aggressive well testing and monitoring, and ultimately a water and sewer system to ensure arsenic stays out of their drinking water.

A similar meeting on redevelopment issues is upcoming. Specifically of concern is the area just east of Anaconda, which is contaminated but critical for economic development, Guay said, pointing to the example of Bi-Mart dropping plans for a store there after realizing contamination levels a few years ago.

“Businesses don’t need to take on that liability,” she said.

The county wants to hear residents’ expectations for the property. To that end, the county is holding an additional series of meetings as part of a growth policy revision.

Also, Anaconda Regional Water, Waste and Soils, which includes the Opportunity Ponds and arsenic contamination throughout the site, will be the focus of a meeting.

One voice For some, Superfund apathy is rooted in doubts that public comments really matter.

“Yes, they do,” said Charlie Coleman, the EPA’s site supervisor.

The agency has given the county hundreds of thousands of dollars in technical assistance grants — some of which it used to hire Kuipers — to give it a voice in the final remedies.

“What Kuipers and the county are doing is extending that voice to the public,” Coleman said.

The Opportunity Citizens Protection Association, formed with help from Saha after the Milltown decision, is an example of how grassroots efforts can drive change.

For example, “ARCO has spent a large amount of money to contain dust,” association member Serge Meyers said. “It’s going to end up being a lot safer environment for the young people of the area.” The association has secured new well tests, air monitoring and is working on a park at Beaverdam School.

“If you wonder why this is finally all coming together, it’s the hard- working people of this community who didn’t give up,” county resident Kathy Hadley said at a public meeting in Opportunity last week.

Other citizens should follow suit, Kuipers said.

“If we don’t take this opportunity, (the county) is largely going to be told what’s going to happen with regard to Superfund,” he said.

Dates and times of future public meetings will be announced.

Erin Nicholes may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
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