February 13, 2007
The Montana Standard reports that legal negotiations between the state and ARCO over remaining unsettled Natural Resource Damage claims may be a step closer to resolution.
Mining lawsuit: State, Arco reach deal
By Justin Post of The Montana Standard - 02/12/2007
The state of Montana is ready to settle a nearly 25-year lawsuit against Atlantic Richfield Co. over environmental damage caused by mining and smelting in Butte and Anaconda.
The Montana Department of Justice and the Atlantic Richfield Co. have reached a confidential agreement to settle the final three outstanding natural resource damage claims, according to court documents filed recently in U.S. District Court in Helena.
Those remaining claims involve natural resource damage along the Clark Fork River from the Warm Springs ponds to Milltown, the Anaconda Uplands area, and Area One, a contaminated groundwater aquifer in Butte.
Before this settlement becomes final and public, however, the state, Atlantic Richfield and the Environmental Protection Agency must also reach agreement on the Superfund cleanup plan for the Clark Fork River site. It is anticipated that this upcoming settlement will include money for Superfund remediation along the Clark Fork River, just as the 1998 settlement earmarked money for Superfund cleanup work on Silver Bow Creek.
John Wardell, director of EPA’s Montana office, said the EPA is asking the state to take the lead role in implementing the Superfund remedy and handling restoration work along the Clark Fork.
“It makes no sense to have two government agencies trying to coordinate the activity,” he said.
Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath has asked U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon to extend the deadline for negotiations until June 30 as talks continue.
Because of a confidentiality order imposed on the proceedings, details are unavailable as to why state and federal officials have been unable to finalize negotiations.
“I’m frustrated we have not reached a resolution with the EPA,” McGrath said.
He declined further comment.
In December 1983, the state sued Atlantic Richfield to recover damages for injured natural resources in the Upper Clark Fork River Basin caused by the mining activities of Atlantic Richfield and its predecessors dating back to the 1870s.
The alleged injuries were to groundwater, air, soils, vegetation, wildlife, fish and surface water. The state sought $765 million for past and future loss of resources and for restoring the injured areas.
In 1998, the parties reached a settlement totaling roughly $215 million for all but these three remaining restoration damage claims.
It’s still unknown how much Atlantic Richfield has agreed to pay to settle these remaining claims. But once the settlement is reached, the state could decide to spend a portion of the money to remove the highly contaminated Parrot tailings that are buried under and around the county shop complex east of the Civic Center.
In the meantime, EPA has ordered extensive monitoring to prevent more groundwater from being contaminated.