The Montana Standard reports that a public meeting last week drew more than 50 people who came to learn about the cleanup plans for the Clark Fork River in the Deer Lodge Valley. Check out the Standard's coverage or continue on below.
Residents listen to plans for cleanup of upper Clark Fork
By Laura L. Lundquist of The Montana Standard - 06/30/2009
After four years of negotiations between environmental agencies and the Atlantic Richfield Co., the Montana Department of Environmental Quality is beginning work to clean up a century of mining contamination on the upper Clark Fork River.
In 2008, the company settled with the state of Montana and the federal government, agreeing to pay $123 million for Superfund cleanup and restoration of the upper Clark Fork River.
More than 50 people showed up at a public meeting in Deer Lodge last week to hear what representatives from four environmental agencies had to say, and commu-nity concern was evident in the question-and-answer period.
Work scheduled for 2009 includes soil sampling for arsenic in three areas around Deer Lodge: the "trestle area" where the railroad crosses the river, residential yards and properties east of Interstate 90.
Brian Bartkowiak, DEQ operations manager, showed aerial photos overlaid with areas colored to indicate low to unacceptable levels of arsenic and displayed number-packed PowerPoint slides to match.
Bartkowiak said they are focusing on the "Bum Bridge" trestle because its pedestrian traffic means people have a greater chance of exposure. Plus, Powell County is considering it as part of a walking trail, but can't until it's safe. While slightly over half of the previous samples were considered safe, the rest had more arsenic than allowed by the Environmental Protection Agency in residential areas.
This summer's sampling will be more thorough so they can fine-tune the trestle design plan being developed. Pedestrians will need to find another route next summer when remedial construction gets under way.
"Based on the trestle sampling, we anticipate that there may be residential areas along the river that have arsenic levels above the residential limit," Bartkowiak said. So technicians will sample yards along the river in August to identify those requiring remedial activities next summer. Remediation can involve either removal of soil or chemical treatment, depending on arsenic levels.
This part of the project spurred suspicion from a few people with health issue, although misunderstandings were evident.
"Are you guys going to waste our tax money?" one woman asked. "What about people like us that are sick from being around this contaminated water?" She mentioned the smell from the garbage in the creek near her house.
Another man objected to the efforts to restore fish habitat. "It doesn't sound like human health is a priority," he said.
DEQ administrator Sandy Olsen tried to assure the people that the DEQ's job was to separate people from contamination but clarified that the only contamination they deal with is due to mine waste.
The DEQ project managers are going to have to gain the trust of people who have stopped believing that something will be done. One project that may help do that is the first piece of remediation to be done along the river. They have chosen a four-mile stretch where Atlantic Richfield owns the land because they will use it as a teaching tool, allowing landowners to see the operations that could be carried out on their land if they give approval.