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Summer Sampling to Lay Groundwork for Clark Fork River Cleanup in 2010

This summer state contractors will be gathering site-specific details to determine how best to implement the cleanup on the Clark Fork River in the Deer Lodge Valley. And if all goes according to current schedule, on-the-ground-work could begin at several sites along the upper Clark Fork in 2010.

Along the Eastside Road, the Dept. of Environmental Quality, the lead agency for the cleanup, will interview landowners and conduct vegetation surveys beginning in June and finishing by September. In August and September, DEQ will also sample residential yards in Deer Lodge within the historic flood plain, where yards are known to have high levels of arsenic. In addition, DEQ will also sample the first 3.7 miles of the Clark Fork River below Warm Springs Ponds that belongs to ARCO. Once the sampling is completed and summarized for the three sites, project planners will design the cleanups and prepare work plans set to begin in the summer of 2010.

A public meeting on the cleanup in Deer Lodge is planned for June 23 at 6 p.m. at the Deer Lodge Community Center.

At a CFRTAC-convened meeting of agencies and river stakeholders on May 21 in Helena, the DEQ released the Sampling and Analysis Plan (SAP) for Soils and Wastes Chemical Characterization for Remedial Design/Remedial Action (PDF). The SAP, available on the CFRTAC website, outlines the way the DEQ will identify the extent of contamination and the associated remedies to address it. The 2004 Clark Fork River Record of Decision, generally, calls for removal of exposed mine tailings, also known as slickens. Sites with lesser contamination will be treated in place by mixing in lime and other soil amendments. Revegetation and stream bank stabilization are also key components throughout the river cleanup.

This year’s sampling builds on preliminary work done by EPA contractors using the Riparian Evaluation System (RipES) in the summers of 2006-07. Sampling will fill in data gaps and provide all the necessary information for the design work plan to be developed this winter.

Agency officials also gave an update on the Trestle area, where the Clark Fork cleanup will begin. The Trestle area is a special concern given its central location in the community of Deer Lodge and the amount foot traffic it sees, especially from children that use the area to cross the river to and from school, as well as to play in on a hot summer day. Powell County officials have emphasized that the area will see increased recreation once a trail is built and voiced concerns about whether contamination will be unearthed.

In March, CFRTAC met with state officials and Powell County Commissioners to discuss the results of the sampling the DEQ conducted in the Trestle area last fall. One issue that emerged between the state and EPA is whether contaminated sediments should be removed to a uniform depth or different levels, according to the degree of contamination. The DEQ is the lead agency on the Clark Fork River cleanup, though EPA provides oversight.

The project, which would likely take a week or so to carry out, was tentatively set to begin in the summer of 2009. The agencies, however, are still resolving their differences on the approach and, thus, design work at the Trestles site will begin in June. Construction could start in the late fall, though the 2010 season is more likely, DEQ officials say.

At the May meeting, DEQ Director Richard Opper said that given the size and complexity of the Clark Fork River cleanup it’s likely that there will be conflict among agencies– there are just a lot of questions and issues to work through. The agencies agreed that, despite whatever differences arise, they do have a good working relationship with one another. Everyone wants the Clark Fork cleanup to be a “showpiece for the world,” said Opper. “We’ve got our eye on the prize.”

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