October 28, 2008

The Dept. of Environmental Quality reports that today the State of Montana has received the long-awaited $168 million settlement of environmental remediation claims for the Upper Clark Fork River and natural resource damage claims for sites in the Clark Fork River Basin. Read the rest of the DEQ press release after the jump or on the DEQ website.

Receipt of the funds resolves 25 years of litigation that began in 1983, when the state sued the Atlantic Richfield Company for damages to the natural resources in the Upper Clark Fork River Basin. The settlement was announced in February and signed by a federal judge in August.

“Now that the funding is finally here we can get to work and make the most of the settlement money,” says Governor Brian Schweitzer. “This means more high-paying jobs for Montanans cleaning up parts of our rivers, streams, and landscape boosting to our growing restoration economy.”

Of the $168 million, $96 million will be used by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for environmental remediation, with EPA oversight, of the Clark Fork River and floodplain between Warm Springs Ponds and Garrison; $72 million will be used to restore damaged natural resources in Butte, Anaconda and the along the Clark Fork River.

“The dollar amounts may sound like a lot, and they are, but you almost can’t put a price on the harm to our environment from the extensive arsenic and heavy metal contamination that occurred from years of unregulated mining and mine waste,” says Richard Opper, Director of the DEQ. “These settlement funds will allow us to move forward to undo the damage, improve the environment, and protect the public health and safety for future generations.”

Many of the DEQ cleanup actions will be conducted concurrently with restoration actions planned by the Natural Resources Damage Program of the State Department of Justice.

“Montana has struggled for many years to arrive at this day,” said Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath. “By working with other agencies, we can use the money wisely, maximize the effectiveness of the cleanup and restoration projects, and ultimately, benefit the communities that have lived with the contamination and endured the wait. It’s good to see the work get under way.”

Work started last week on the Clark Fork River project with soil sampling at the trestle area in Deer Lodge. More than thirty people attended a recent public meeting to mark the start of the Clark Fork River cleanup project, which is expected to take at least a decade.
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