This month's Montana Public Radio commentary by Pat Munday offers an overview of the upcoming cleanup of the Clark Fork River in the Deer Lodge Valley.  Read it below.

The wet, cool spring has made it tough on crews working to remove mine waste and rebuild Silver Bow Creek, but it's has been very good for vegetation in restored areas upstream. Weather is like that: there are always benefits as well as something to complain about.

 

Federal laws are like that, too-whether it's the successful reintroduction of wolves to Montana or the successful cleanup and restoration of areas in the Upper Clark Fork River Basin. We thank these Superfund laws - and the tremendous foresight of Montana government and citizens that supported the Natural Resource Damage lawsuit against ARCO - for protecting human health and our environment from the ravages of a century of mining and smelting.

 

Superfund and the restoration lawsuit came to us a generation ago and we are at last seeing results. At a recent public meeting hosted by CFRTAC in Deer Lodge, Montana's Department of Environmental Quality rolled out plans for the one hundred and twenty-three million dollar ($123 million) cleanup and restoration of the Clark Fork River. Several key features of the ten to twelve year plan are noteworthy.

 

With the state taking the lead in this integrated remedy/restoration effort, expect a higher level of human health and environmental protection than we have generally seen from federal Environmental Protection Agency.

 

Several areas neglected by EPA are now receiving attention. The Deer Lodge trestle area, where some soil samples show arsenic levels higher than the six hundred and eighty parts per million (680 mg/kg) action level to protect recreational users, will be cleaned up. Furthermore, since many of the trestle area samples were higher than the one hundred and fifty parts per million (150 mg/kg) action level for residential areas, sampling will be extended to the surrounding neighborhoods. It is worth mentioning here that EPA set the arsenic action level nearly twice as high - at two hundred and fifty parts per million (250 mg/kg) - for the communities of Butte and Anaconda.

 

The Clark Fork River is a complex Superfund site. In addition to toxic waste deposited by air from the Anaconda Smelter and directly by the river, irrigation ditches spread pollution across hayfields. Many of these historically irrigated fields have since grown a crop of houses.

 

The East Side Ditch - between Sager Lane and Deer Lodge city limits - is one such problem area. Though EPA did some emergency soil removals to protect residents nearly ten years ago, not all property owners allowed access. Since that time, dust from contaminated areas appears to be polluting yards that were cleaned up: a costly and tragic reverse remedy. In addition, some properties where owners originally denied access are now residential-families with children are living on toxic waste where EPA believed emergency removals were necessary to protect human health. Thankfully, Montana DEQ is now addressing this issue.

 

Not every place is equal under Superfund remedy. For example, at Grant-Kohrs Ranch the Park Service will oversee cleanup. Performance standards are based on re-establishing a self-sustaining, native riparian plant community. Unlike other areas of the river, this must be accomplished with remedy funds and not by tapping limited restoration dollars.

 

Speaking of precious, limited restoration dollars, there is news on two fronts.

 

First of all, we are still waiting for Montana's Natural Resource Damage Program to complete a restoration road map to guide spending of the available one-hundred and twenty million dollars ($120 million). NRDP drafted the road map a year-and-a-half ago, but it is bogged down in the citizens' Advisory Council. The state wants the council to come to a consensus, but maybe it's time to settle for a "majority rules" decision.

 

Secondly, there were thirteen grant proposals submitted to NRDP this year. They total about twenty-three million dollars, whereas there is only fifteen million available. This brings home the point about the need for a restoration road map to provide guidance, as well as the need for the state to spend these scarce dollars on projects that achieve authentic restoration. Let's not be throwing precious restoration funds in the pork barrel.

 

Finally, let's remember that not all of us benefit from remedy. About two million cubic yards of waste from Milltown have been shipped to the ARCO waste repository near the town of Opportunity. It's easy for most of us to look at this as an "out of sight, out of mind" solution: if you lived in Opportunity, you might not feel that way.

 

Hope to see you on the Butte Hill this weekend for the National Folk Festival-it's a fine chance to express our shared sense of community here in the Upper Clark Fork River Basin.

 

For more news about the Clark Fork River, Milltown, and other Superfund issues, please check out CFRTAC's website at hyperlink www.cfrtac.org.

 

From Butte to Missoula, we deserve a clean, healthy, and accessible Clark Fork River. It's your river. Wade in, and help make the future.

 

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