April 29, 2008

The High Country News recently featured an essay by former Montana congressman Pat Williams touting the benefits of the Milltown Dam Removal as an emblem of the emerging restoration economy. Read it here.

April 29, 2008

The Missoulian reports that scour on the Blackfoot River has exposed a Northwestern Energy gas pipeline. “We knew it was there, and it really was just a matter of time,” said EPA project manager Russ Forba in an interview with the Missoulian. “The company has been involved all along, and they knew that at some point it would have to be relocated.” That work will be underway soon, possibly later this week. Read the article here.

April 19, 2008

Opportunity and repository

Roughly 90 residents of the Opportunity and Anaconda area have filed a lawsuit in Butte District court against BP-ARCO and its predecessors for its mining and smelting operations that have “jeopardized their property, health and welfare.” Read the article in today’s Montana Standard or after the jump.
Smelter pollution basis of lawsuit
By John Grant Emeigh of The Montana Standard - 04/19/2008

About 90 residents in the Anaconda and Opportunity areas have filed a lawsuit against the Atlantic Richfield Co. and other companies — past and present — alleging the smelting operation contaminated their property and put the public health at risk.

The residents are seeking an undetermined amount of monetary damages for nearly a century’s worth of toxins that they claim have polluted the area by the smelting of the copper mined out of Butte, according to the lawsuit filed this week in Butte district court.

The 18-page complaint demands a jury trial in which the residents want to prove that the mining companies recklessly “jeopardized their property, health and welfare.” The lawsuit contends the defendants negligently released mine tailings, furnace slag, flue dust and numerous heavy metals into the air, soil, surface and ground waters in and around the smelting facility.

The complaint names several defendants including BP Amoco Corp., Atlantic Richfield Co., the Anaconda Mining Co., as well as the estate of Frank Day. The suit alleges the contaminants were created from the Anaconda smelting operations from 1884 to 1980.

Great Falls attorney Tom L. Lewis, who is representing the property owners in the lawsuit, didn’t return phone messages Thursday and Friday seeking comment.

Robin Bullock, the regional manager for Arco in Butte, said her company is reviewing the lawsuit and couldn’t comment on the specific allegations. However, she added that the company is disappointed it is being sued and that it has been involved in cleaning the site for the past 20 years. “We are committed to completing what we have on our plate,” she said.

Bullock said the company has been complying with Environmental Protection Agency requirements for cleaning the site, which she said will continue over the next few years.

George Niland of Opportunity, who is one of the plaintiffs, said the Arco’s cleanup efforts have taken too long and aren’t satisfactory.

“Filing the lawsuit is our last straw,” Niland told The Montana Standard Friday morning.

Niland alleges that the EPA regulations by which ARCO abides allows for a certain amount of toxic materials in the soil. However, Niland claims there is arsenic in the soil on his property, and that it is still at a dangerous level despite the EPA regulations.

“That’s not acceptable to us,” he said.

Niland started the Opportunity Citizens Protection Association as a watchdog group to monitor the clean-up of that area’s Superfund site.

The lawsuit makes eight allegations including negligence and liability for abnormally dangerous activity.

“The defendants have failed and refused to timely and properly remove the contamination,” according to the court documents.

— 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

April 19, 2008

In a photo essay on Slate.com, cultural geographer Caitlin DeSilvey explores some the history of the Milltown Dam Powerhouse and its recent removal. The slideshow, Watershed Moment, is a followup to a 2006 piece for Slate.

April 17, 2008


Roughly 642,000 cubic yards of Milltown sediment has been shipped to BP-ARCO’s repository at the Anaconda Superfund site. CFRTAC coordinator Michael Kustudia, with assistance of pilot Gary Matson, recently flew over the repository and took these photos. The photo above shows the sediments being spread to form roughly a two-foot layer. More photos after the jump.


One train a day, with 45 rail cars, makes the trip to the BP-ARCO repository.

Truck and Loader

Milltown sediments, rich in both heavy metals and organic matter, are used to cap areas at the repository, which home to more than 300 million cubic yards of smelter waste.

Repository Cell

This repository cell awaits capping.

April 17, 2008

CFRTAC board member and West Riverside resident Judy Matson offers her perspective on the recent breaching of the Milltown Dam in this month’s Montana Public Radio commentary. Within the community, there’s a wide range of viewpoints on the issue, depending where one stands on the cleanup itself.” And to frame the issue, she quotes British statesman John Lubbock: “What we see depends on what we look for.” Read the commentary here (PDF).

April 17, 2008

Work is on track at Milltown. Check out Missoula County’s monthly update here (PDF) and the EPA’s latest here (PDF).

April 17, 2008

From David Schmetterling, fisheries biologist for the Montana Dept. of Fish, Wildlife and Parks comes this update on fisheries monitoring on the Milltown project. In a nutshell, so far so good. Caged fish have shown no greater mortality than normal nor have the radio tagged fish. Read more after the jump.

Caged fish
We have been checking the caged fish 6-7 times/ week since the dam was breached on March 28. Since the breach, mortality of caged fish in the Milltown Section (downstream of Milltown Dam) is not any greater that the upriver controls. Since the breach, there has been very little mortality of fish at the sites in Turah, Milltown, and the Bitterroot near Missoula. There have been no mortalities in out spring creek control site near Clinton. The levels of mortality in the Blackfoot location are similar to past years and we expect they will continue for the next couple of weeks and then subside.

However, there has been much mortality in the cages near Alberton. These mortalities occurred largely over a discrete period between April 5 and April 9 where over 20% of the caged fish died. This was significantly greater than expected (based on observed mortality at our upriver sites) and was different than we have observed in pervious years. Given this situation, on April 7 we collected fish from each site and preserved them for histological evaluation by Beth MacConnell at the USFWS Bozeman Fish Heath Center to determine the cause of death.

Although we collected fish from all six locations, Beth examined fish from the Alberton site and the control in the Clinton Spring creek first. Tissue sections showed no parasites or bacteria. There was no evidence of any infectious disease or trauma. No severe lesions were seen in either group of fish.

Based on her evaluation of the central nervous system, blood, gills, tissue, and organs the condition suggests acute toxicity as the cause of mortality. Intact gill tissue, erythrocyte breakdown and degenerative changes in central nervous system are indicative of a pesticide exposure via ingestion or absorption through the skin. In discussions with her, because of the timing of mortality and relatively protracted nature of the mortality and histological changes in the fish, it appears that the fish were affected by a neurotoxin that was likely derived from the insects they were eating. A toxin that would not have killed insects, but is lethal to fish is likely the cause.

This is disturbing, because not only does it interfere with and potentially confounds results from this monitoring study, but also it shows the harmful effects of pesticides in the environment. The source of the toxic agent is unknown, and it is likely impossible to determine at this time. Ironically, this monitoring site (at the Mineral County line) has gotten a lot of attention recently because of the potential deleterious effects of the dam breach on guides and outfitters. Although mortalities have increased in the Alberton site since the breach, it is clearly not because of the breach.

Radio telemetry
Since the breach, we have been tracking the radio tagged fish 6-7 times per week to determine mortality and movements in relation to the increased turbidity and decline in water quality following the breach. Since the breach, we have had no mortalities and there has not been any movement in response to water quality changes. However, we have had several fish (including some of last years’ fish) move upstream on apparent spawning migrations. Two fish that were tagged in the Milltown Section have moved upstream into the Blackfoot River and two fish from the Milltown Section have moved upstream into the Clark Fork River and upstream through the bypass channel.

Because of continued lower than normal flows, we will not radio tag and transport fish to evaluate fish passage through the powerhouse area and bypass channel until at least the end of next week (April 23) or early the following week (week of April 28).

For related coverage, see the Missoulian’s recent article on fish passage through the restored confluence.

April 17, 2008

CFRTAC board president Kathy Hadley recently wrote a response to a Montana Standard editorial that suggested that the highest priority for state restoration funds should be for community groundwater resources. “Unfortunately,” she writes, “if more dollars were to be allocated to groundwater resources, the dollars would likely come from future spending planned for the Clark Fork River restoration and for the Upper Basin’s damaged terrestrial and wildlife resources. Read the rebuttal here or after the jump.

Guest opinion: NRD spending
By Kathy Hadley - 04/16/2008

The editorial on Natural Resource Damage Program spending that ran in the Montana Standard last week (April 6) took me by surprise. The editorial suggested that the highest priority for state restoration funds should be for community groundwater resources.

Unfortunately, if more dollars were to be allocated to groundwater resources, the dollars would likely come from future spending planned for the Clark Fork River restoration and for the Upper Basin’s damaged terrestrial and wildlife resources.

Since NRD started its grant program, Butte-Silver Bow has received the lion’s share of grant funds ($31 million) compared to other affected neighboring counties (Anaconda-Deer Lodge $17 million, Powell $2 million, Granite $0.4 million and Missoula $15 million). Most of Butte’s $31 million has been spent on ground- water projects, replacing neglected and leaky water lines or for the Greenway project. And yet, we have not spent a nickel on damages to the Clark Fork River.

The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the Montana Department of Health and Environmental Sciences were the lead state agencies who put together the NRD lawsuit years ago. It was filed for natural resource damages in the Upper Clark Fork River basin on behalf of all of the state’s citizens. Claims were filed for drinking water in Butte and Anaconda, but also for damages to the fish, wildlife and recreational opportunities lost throughout the upper basin.

For more than 20 years, funding for the NRD program required legislative support to acquire the state funds to continue the litigation the state filed on behalf of all of its citizens. Over the years the Butte delegation helped greatly with acquiring the ongoing funding, but make no mistake, they were not alone. The conservation community, interested in restoring a severely damaged river system, was always present, as were legislators from Missoula, Deer Lodge and Anaconda. Only by everyone working together was funding for litigation secured year after year.

Today, we have a lot of money to take care of a lot of injured resources. Al-ready communities in the basin have been able to get funding for millions of dollars worth of restoration activities. You might be surprised to learn that the NRD program started the restoration grant program about eight years ago with about $120 million. To date, they have funded $60 million worth of grants and currently have a fund balance of about $177 million due to interest accrual. It’s pretty good performance for a government agency.

The state NRD program is now proposing a new roadmap for future spending of settlement money not already allocated to specific projects. They are proposing a funding allocation based upon the natural resource damage claims. The Clark Fork River and other aquatic resources would receive 39 percent of the new funds, damaged ground-water resources would receive 36 percent and damaged wildlife and other terrestrial resources would receive 25 percent of the settlement funds.

There are an infinite number of ways to allocate these funds. For example, we could start by first funding only restoration activities, which means groundwater replacement would fall to the back of the line as would conservation easements for wildlife habitat. Or, we could spend the money only where the damages occurred, which means Big Hole water line repairs or projects at Georgetown Lake would also fail to make the cut. I don’t think either of these options works very well.

In the final analysis, we know that all the people and communities up and down the Clark Fork River from Missoula to Butte were and continue to be negatively impacted from mining-related damages. In Anaconda, the community suffers greatly from contaminated soils and groundwater and continues to endure enormous losses to their tax base. Furthermore, Deer Lodge County is the daily recipient of trainloads of toxic mine wastes from both Butte and Missoula.

And for the people who live along the river, not a spade of contaminated dirt has been removed. The river, its fisheries and wildlife and the agricultural working lands along its corridor remain impaired, waiting for cleanup and restoration to begin.

Let’s face it, if you live in any community in the upper basin, you can be sure the soils, water, fish and wildlife have been impacted. We need to get on with the hard task of restoring our damaged natural resources through an equitable allocation of the new settlement funds based on the actual damage claims filed by the state. We also need to work together to avoid pitting one community against another.
— Kathy Hadley, of the Deer Lodge River Ranch, 1016 Eastside Road in Deer Lodge, is a member of the governor’s NRD citizens’ advisory council, but this opinion is hers alone.

April 4, 2008

This aerial photo, from Michael Kustudia and pilot Gary Matson, looks down on the old site of the powerhouse and the new channel of the Clark Fork and Blackfoot Rivers.

Temporary Confluence

Looking downstream, with the bypass channel and sediment excavation areas in the foreground.

Old channel and bypass

The Clark Fork River’s old channel and bypass.

Upstream from Spillway

Upstream view from below the spillway.

Clark Fork River and Black Foot River

Streamside view of the combined flows of the two rivers.


The Blackfoot River, still at low water, under the newly fortified I-90 bridge.

April 4, 2008

The recent breach of the Milltown Dam has received lots of coverage in the local, national and international media. For visuals, check out KPAX TV coverage (and also this YouTube video from American Whitewater.) The Missoulian covered the breach and did a follow-up. Local coverage is also found in the Clark Fork Chronicle and NewWest. The Associated Press and Reuters also covered the story for national and international audiences, respectively. The Reuters story appeared in the Xinhuanet, the official news agency of China.


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