August 26, 2008

The Montana Dept. of Justice announced today that a federal court has approved the settlement of a natural resource damage lawsuit that requires the Atlantic Richfield Co. to pay $168 million to the state of Montana for restoration work in the upper Clark Fork River Basin.

“We’ve waited for this day for a long, long time,” said Attorney General Mike McGrath. “The state should start receiving payments from Arco within 90 days, and the cleanup and restoration projects in Butte and Anaconda and along the Clark Fork River can begin.”

The DoJ press release follows after the jump.

ATTORNEY GENERAL MIKE MCGRATH
STATE OF MONTANA
FOR RELEASE: August 26, 2008
CONTACT: Lynn Solomon, (406) 444-0582; Judy Beck, (406) 444-5774
McGrath: Court Approves Clark Fork River Basin Consent Decree

HELENA – Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath said Tuesday that a federal court has approved the settlement of the final natural resource damage claims for sites in the Clark Fork River Basin and the environmental remediation claims for the Upper Clark Fork River.

The settlement was announced in February, and it was subject to a 60-day public-comment period. U.S. District Court Judge Sam Haddon signed the agreement Thursday and it was entered by the court Monday.

“We’ve waited for this day for a long, long time,” McGrath said. “The state should start receiving payments from Arco within 90 days, and the cleanup and restoration projects in Butte and Anaconda and along the Clark Fork River can begin.”

The approval of the agreement is the latest step in a case of 25 years of litigation that began in 1983, when the state sued the Atlantic Richfield Company (Arco) for injuries to the natural resources in the Upper Clark Fork River Basin. The agreement resolves natural resource damage claims for three sites:

* Smelter Hill Uplands – the upland mountains surrounding the city of Anaconda;
* Butte Area One – the alluvial groundwater aquifer and Silver Bow Creek in the city of Butte, and
* Upper Clark Fork River – the floodplain and river between Warm Springs Ponds and Milltown Dam.

The total settlement being paid to the state is $168 million. The state will get $95.5 million to clean up the Clark Fork River site with EPA oversight, and $72.5 restore the three sites. The state’s restoration share is broken down:

* $28.1 million to Butte Area One;
* $13.2 million to the Smelter Hill Uplands, and
* $26.7 million to the Upper Clark Fork River.

In addition, $4.5 million is to reimburse the state for its past technical and litigation costs. And, as part of the settlement, the state has released preliminary proposals for restoration of the three sites.

McGrath said that now the litigation is finished, state and federal agencies and Montana citizens can move forward and work together to make the most of the settlement funds.

“In Butte, for example, the community must develop a plan for how to best use these dollars. There are some good ideas out there,” he said. “Ultimately, the final decision is up to the trustee, Gov. Schweitzer.”

August 25, 2008

The Missoulian reports on researchers from the University of Montana who have found far higher levels of heavy metals downstream from the Milltown Dam site than had been anticipated. A higher and longer than usual runoff this spring caused heavy metal-contaminated sediments to scour out of the upper end of the reservoir, something project planners didn’t expect. Officials from the EPA and state say that the higher levels detected pose no threat to human or environmental health and that more studies will be coming out this fall. Read the article here.

August 7, 2008

Divider block ruins
Divider block ruins

The EPA reports that more than a million cubic yards of sediment have been shipped from the Milltown Superfund site and that the spillway is on track for complete removal by fall. Read more here (PDF). The photo above offers a glimpse of the Clark Fork River as it flows past the remaining ruins of the divider block. (Photo: Michael Kustudia)

August 7, 2008

Join representatives of the Montana Natural Resource Damage Program and local residents to help out with restoration work — weed pulling — along the Clark Fork and Blackfoot Rivers on August 13 at 6:30 p.m.

Weeds pose a challenge to any restoration project but fortunately lend themselves to a community effort. Volunteers will meet on the east side of the Town Pump parking lot in Bonner overlooking the Blackfoot River (just off I-90 on Hwy 200). NRD representatives will be there to coordinate this effort and answer questions about the restoration work.

Volunteers will pull weeds within the restoration area along the Blackfoot River in Milltown and along the Clark Fork above the Envirocon remediation area. The weed pull will last about 2 hours with water, garbage bags, and some tools provided. (If you have your own weed pulling tools please bring them). Also please bring your own work gloves and boots. For more information, call 258-6335.

August 7, 2008

At a press conference in Bonner on Tuesday, Gov. Brian Schweitzer called for a cleanup and removal of a contaminated cooling pond built on the bank of the Blackfoot River at the Stimson Mill. The pond, in use for generations, contains roughly 87,000 cubic yards of sediments contaminated with carcinogenic PCBs and other toxic compounds.

The governor, and DEQ director Richard Opper, discussed the state’s preliminary cleanup plan, which is out for public comment until Sept. 12. The sediments would be removed and shipped, depending on the degree of toxicity, to either the local landfill or a special facility in Idaho. The berm that encloses the pond would be removed and the banks included in the state’s restoration plan for the Milltown Superfund site at the confluence of the Clark Fork and Blackfoot Rivers. The berm of the cooling pond had to be reinforced before beginning work at the Milltown Superfund site.

The project, which could begin as early as next spring and take three to four months to complete, carries an estimated price tag of more than $5 million. For additional coverage, see the Missoulian’s article.

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