April 17, 2008

CFRTAC board president Kathy Hadley recently wrote a response to a Montana Standard editorial that suggested that the highest priority for state restoration funds should be for community groundwater resources. “Unfortunately,” she writes, “if more dollars were to be allocated to groundwater resources, the dollars would likely come from future spending planned for the Clark Fork River restoration and for the Upper Basin’s damaged terrestrial and wildlife resources. Read the rebuttal here or after the jump.


Guest opinion: NRD spending
By Kathy Hadley - 04/16/2008

The editorial on Natural Resource Damage Program spending that ran in the Montana Standard last week (April 6) took me by surprise. The editorial suggested that the highest priority for state restoration funds should be for community groundwater resources.

Unfortunately, if more dollars were to be allocated to groundwater resources, the dollars would likely come from future spending planned for the Clark Fork River restoration and for the Upper Basin’s damaged terrestrial and wildlife resources.

Since NRD started its grant program, Butte-Silver Bow has received the lion’s share of grant funds ($31 million) compared to other affected neighboring counties (Anaconda-Deer Lodge $17 million, Powell $2 million, Granite $0.4 million and Missoula $15 million). Most of Butte’s $31 million has been spent on ground- water projects, replacing neglected and leaky water lines or for the Greenway project. And yet, we have not spent a nickel on damages to the Clark Fork River.

The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the Montana Department of Health and Environmental Sciences were the lead state agencies who put together the NRD lawsuit years ago. It was filed for natural resource damages in the Upper Clark Fork River basin on behalf of all of the state’s citizens. Claims were filed for drinking water in Butte and Anaconda, but also for damages to the fish, wildlife and recreational opportunities lost throughout the upper basin.

For more than 20 years, funding for the NRD program required legislative support to acquire the state funds to continue the litigation the state filed on behalf of all of its citizens. Over the years the Butte delegation helped greatly with acquiring the ongoing funding, but make no mistake, they were not alone. The conservation community, interested in restoring a severely damaged river system, was always present, as were legislators from Missoula, Deer Lodge and Anaconda. Only by everyone working together was funding for litigation secured year after year.

Today, we have a lot of money to take care of a lot of injured resources. Al-ready communities in the basin have been able to get funding for millions of dollars worth of restoration activities. You might be surprised to learn that the NRD program started the restoration grant program about eight years ago with about $120 million. To date, they have funded $60 million worth of grants and currently have a fund balance of about $177 million due to interest accrual. It’s pretty good performance for a government agency.

The state NRD program is now proposing a new roadmap for future spending of settlement money not already allocated to specific projects. They are proposing a funding allocation based upon the natural resource damage claims. The Clark Fork River and other aquatic resources would receive 39 percent of the new funds, damaged ground-water resources would receive 36 percent and damaged wildlife and other terrestrial resources would receive 25 percent of the settlement funds.

There are an infinite number of ways to allocate these funds. For example, we could start by first funding only restoration activities, which means groundwater replacement would fall to the back of the line as would conservation easements for wildlife habitat. Or, we could spend the money only where the damages occurred, which means Big Hole water line repairs or projects at Georgetown Lake would also fail to make the cut. I don’t think either of these options works very well.

In the final analysis, we know that all the people and communities up and down the Clark Fork River from Missoula to Butte were and continue to be negatively impacted from mining-related damages. In Anaconda, the community suffers greatly from contaminated soils and groundwater and continues to endure enormous losses to their tax base. Furthermore, Deer Lodge County is the daily recipient of trainloads of toxic mine wastes from both Butte and Missoula.

And for the people who live along the river, not a spade of contaminated dirt has been removed. The river, its fisheries and wildlife and the agricultural working lands along its corridor remain impaired, waiting for cleanup and restoration to begin.

Let’s face it, if you live in any community in the upper basin, you can be sure the soils, water, fish and wildlife have been impacted. We need to get on with the hard task of restoring our damaged natural resources through an equitable allocation of the new settlement funds based on the actual damage claims filed by the state. We also need to work together to avoid pitting one community against another.
— Kathy Hadley, of the Deer Lodge River Ranch, 1016 Eastside Road in Deer Lodge, is a member of the governor’s NRD citizens’ advisory council, but this opinion is hers alone.

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