December 28, 2006

Last week the Butte-Silver Bow Commission approved a $49 million deal with ARCO-BP that would give the city-county control over the Butte Priority Soils for the next century. Roughly $34 million will be used for remediation on the Butte hill and another $15 million would be dedicated to redevelopment efforts.

Read more on the deal from the Montana Standard (12/21/06) as well as a couple local perspectives on the deal.

Council OKs $49M deal
By John Grant Emeigh of The Montana Standard - 12/21/2006

In a vote of 10-2, the Butte-Silver Bow Council of Commission Wednesday evening approved the Superfund allocation agreement between Butte-Silver Bow and the Atlantic Richfield Co.

District 8 Commissioner Dave Coleman and District 10 Commissioner Mike Sheehy were the only members to vote against the allocation.

Under the agreement, Atlantic Richfield will give the county roughly $49 million to take care of the Butte Priority Soils Superfund site for the next 100 years. That total includes a $15 million redevelopment trust fund the county could put toward various uses such as historic preservation projects and helping developers offset extra costs incurred when developing on reclaimed mine sites.

The remainder of about $34 million will be invested and then gradually spent on tasks such as ridding homes and yards of mine waste, managing storm water, treating groundwater, and maintaining waste caps.

Before voting for the plan, the commissioners spent about 45 minutes explaining the reasons behind their votes.

District 4 Commissioner John Sorich said the council was making “history” by supporting the allocation.

District 12 Commissioner Rocko Mulcahy said he supported the action after putting plenty of research into the matter.

“This is right for Butte,” he said.

District 2 Commissioner Joe Lee also supported the proposal, adding that though it isn’t perfect, it’s “workable.” However, Sheehy compared this proposal to wearing wool underwear.

“It makes me uncomfortable,” he said.

“I can’t find two reasons to vote for it, but I can find 100 reasons not to vote for it,” Sheehy added.

The commission has spent countless hours in hearings and listening to public testimony about the allocation since 2004.

Atlantic Richfield still has considerable work to complete before the agreement would take effect, such as finishing the Granite Mountain Memorial and transforming the lagoon system off Centennial Avenue into a permanent water treatment facility.

Reporter John Grant Emeigh may be reached via e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by telephone, 496-5511.

New Superfund chapter begins
By Roberta Forsell Stauffer, Standard Opinion Page Editor - 12/22/2006
Commissioner John Sorich is right: The Butte-Silver Bow Council of Commissioners did make a historic decision Wednesday night in approving the allocation agreement between the county and the Atlantic Richfield Co. on the Butte Priority Soils Superfund site.
Local government representatives are rarely faced with $49 million proposals, and the various speeches made leading up to decision time showed commissioners were well aware of the gravity of the vote they were about to take.

District 2 Commissioner Joe Lee read 11 typed pages into the record, recounting all the personal grappling and researching that went into his conclusion that the settlement is in the citizens’ best interest, especially since it includes a backstop clause protecting the county from liability should the money run out.

However, Lee remains firmly against leaving the Parrot tailings buried down by the Civic Center and believes that issue is far from resolved. The state is still negotiating with Atlantic Richfield on a natural resource damage claim related to those tailings, and Lee said any settlement money from that case had better be spent in Butte to remove them. Nothing is more precious than water, Lee said, and he’s deeply disappointed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency did not side with the experts who called for removal.
District 12 Commissioner Rocko Mulcahy represents much of the Butte Hill that stands to be redeveloped under this settlement, and he expressed excitement over finally having some control over what happens on that land, plus a $15 million redevelopment fund to help projects.

Mulcahy also took exception to critics, especially John Ray, who accused commissioners of hurrying through this process they’ve been involved with for years.

“To put it bluntly, Mr. Ray is wrong to suggest that we have not proceeded with prudent deliberation,” Mulcahy said, adding that he hopes Ray and others recognize the valuable contributions they have made by raising the questions and concerns along every step of the way. Their watchdogging made the process all the better, Mulcahy said, and he hopes they will now redirect their energies into helping the county achieve the cleanup and redevelopment goals set forth in this agreement.

The 10 to 2 vote marks an ending: The county has chosen a course of action for dealing with the mine waste and polluted water left behind after a century-plus of mining. But it signals a number of beginnings, too.

Atlantic Richfield will now start the major remaining cleanup tasks such as finishing the Granite Mountain Memorial and transforming its lagoon treatment ponds into a permanent facility. Butte-Silver Bow will start determining the community’s priorities for redevelopment and taking steps to realize them.

The two commissioners who voted against the agreement, Dave Coleman and Mike Sheehy, said they just didn’t think it went far enough to protect human health and the environment.

But since the people taking on these long-term tasks of safeguarding the mine waste caps and overseeing the water treatment and residential programs will be county employees with a vested interest in the long-term health of their home, we believe the majority of commissioners were right to put their trust in them, and we look forward to watching as they continue to polish up this rugged old mining town.

County/Arco deal right for Butte
By Joe Lee, County Commissioner - 12/22/2006
Editor’s note: The following is a excerpt from District 2 Commissioner Joe Lee’s statement at Wednesday night’s council meeting.

It is undeniably a momentous time in Butte’s history as we, council members, cast a vote that will have a profound and everlasting impact upon our community and our citizens. This issue has been on the minds of all of us for a number of years and its importance has not diminished with the passage of time.

The permanent impact upon future generations and upon the economic viability of our community cannot be overstated. And, in that sense, long and deliberated discussions were held engaging and soliciting the public for its important input.

I believe that a sincere, conscientious and transparent effort has been made to “get it right.” I feel this agreement is the correct course. It isn’t perfect; it doesn’t address issues to everyone’s satisfaction, but it does provide for a workable cleanup that will be protective of human health and provide for a better, more accountable stewardship of our environment.

I fully agree Butte-Silver Bow must control its destiny in assuring that the best possible cleanup will be accomplished. Butte’s nationally recognized “can do” attitude will assure the cleanup is done right under local government control.

The agreement goes further in the remediation process than that proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in its final remedy for the operable unit. I feel EPA has failed this community in many respects by not taking a more aggressive approach in addressing many of the Butte Priority Soils issues.

The EPA, in its Record of Decision, did not order removal of the Parrot tailings despite the fact that a number of hydrology professionals advocated their removal.

Water is the most precious resource on this planet. There is a saying, “Man knows not the worth of water until the well runs dry.” The well has run dry when we speak of the aquifer contaminated by the Parrot tailings because it cannot be used for beneficial purposes and the citizens of Butte are the poorer for it.

I want to go on record and be emphatic to say that it would be sorely disappointing if the compensation from natural resource damages is not used in Butte. The citizens of Butte have lost an enormous natural resource and must be justly compensated for that loss. I strongly urge that we actively and aggressively do everything we can to pursue the necessary monies to remove the Parrot tailings.

As for the agreement, it is important to step back and look at the big picture and the totality of its effects — the positives versus the negatives, the practical versus the impractical, certainty versus uncertainty, perfect world versus imperfect world.
The agreement goes a long way in addressing many important issues that were not part of the EPA final remedy in the Record of Decision.

I believe this agreement and our decision are about doing the right thing for the people of our community. It’s about being right in taking the necessary steps to protect human health and safety. It’s about being right in moving this community forward under good supervision and environmental stewardship.

I would be remiss if I did not mention a number of people from the public at large who took part in the Superfund process. Most notably, John Ray and Fritz Daily, who, over a number of years, have given freely of their time. They have voiced their concerns and expressed their opinions many times respective to Superfund activities and their impact and implications relating to the health and well-being of our citizens. I know that neither of these gentlemen came forth with a self-serving motive or hidden agenda. Their perspectives, opinions and insights were always welcomed and played an important role in the overall decision-making process by various departments.

I commend the staff of Butte-Silver Bow who have provided invaluable information and guidance to the council. They have taken this issue to bed with them night after night, week after week, month after month, and year after year. I have trust, faith and confidence in our staff and their ability, knowing they have put forth their best effort in arriving at a settlement agreement they could feel comfortable with in making a recommendation to this body for acceptance and approval.

We have been witnessing a new awakening in our community and a resurgence of energy that has led to revitalization and economic growth. I see this agreement as another step in the continuation of that resurgence to move this community in a forward direction.
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