October 31, 2006

ARCO-BP has been hearing from a variety of sources that its plan to control dust at it repository at Opportunity falls short of being effective and that the company needs to go back to the drawing board.

On October 12, the Environmental Protection Agency sent a letter to ARCO-BP (PDF) outlining the required measures to deal with the chronic dust problem at its mine waste repository near Opportunity in Anaconda-Deer Lodge County. The EPA wrote that ARCO-BP’s dust plan lacked “sufficient specifics” about how the company would control the dust. In its revised plan, due later this year, ARCO-BP must provide details on guidelines it will use for implementing best management practices to control dust.

In addition, the EPA called for the development of a community plan that would keep Opportunity residents informed about public health issues and work at the site. The plan calls for continuous real-time monitoring of finer grain dust particles within Opportunity and Warm Springs and also requires the dust samples be analyzed for metal content. Information on the dust will be disseminated to the community through newsletters, websites and postings in the community.

ARCO-BP, the legally responsible party for the cleanup of the majority of Superfund sites around the Clark Fork Basin, owns and manages the repository. The 3500-acre repository was originally the dumping ground for mine wastes from the Anaconda smelter. In 1980, the smelter closed and the repository was put on care and maintenance. The company had a dust suppression program at the repository but was discontinued in 1996. The repository has since become the ultimate destination for toxic sediments from Superfund sites from around the Clark Fork River watershed, including Milltown.

Local residents have been increasingly vocal about the possible health effects of airborne dust, which at times clouds the area around Opportunity, Warm Springs and even as far as the town of Deer Lodge. Last March, CFRTAC and the Opportunity Citizens Protection Association (OCPA) organized a community meeting on the dust issue. ARCO-BP subsequently released a dust mitigation plan in the spring, which CFRTAC technical advisors found to be inadequate to the task of abating the fugitive dust. Among other things, the CFRTAC review found that the plan did not contain a “clear or tangible commitment to prevent or respond to future dust events beyond whatever ARCO or its contractors may voluntarily choose to do.” And beyond that, the plan had not “been noticeably effective in addressing ongoing dust events,” which continued through the spring and summer.

In July, the Anaconda-Deer Lodge County Commissioners wrote to the EPA, DEQ and Governor’s Office. That letter warned that around the Opportunity site “the public’s health, safety and general welfare are being adversely affected from both existing conditions and those exacerbated by the current cleanup efforts.” It also requested that “the state and federal agencies do everything within their power to further address this matter.”

The county’s letter received some local media coverage and resulted in a contentious commissioners meeting. Workers of the local contractor showed up en masse, fearing their jobs may somehow be at stake. “The county took quite a bit of heat for these recommendations on the issue of jobs,” said Jim Kuipers, the Superfund technical advisor to Anaconda-Deer Lodge County. “We think dust mitigation is likely to increase employment opportunities.” EPA estimates that currently ten workers are assigned to dust mitigation.

On September 28, environmental justice champion Lois Gibbs returned to Opportunity to lead a community meeting on the dust issue that was attended by key decision makers from the EPA, the Dept. of Environmental Quality and ARCO-BP. Also on the 28th, the DEQ sent a letter (PDF) requesting that EPA direct ARCO-BP to adopt a number of additional mitigation measures. Since then, the EPA has convened several roundtable discussions with community members, local and state representatives, which has resulted in the basis for the recommendations for ARCO-BP.

Independent of the planning effort, ARCO-BP has begun to step up its dust control by applying a polymer surfactant – a thin plastic film of sorts — to some of the more problematic acreage at the site. “Workers at the site can cover roughly 70 acres per day and as of mid-October had covered more than 300 acres, with 400 more possible this fall.

October 31, 2006

Last week the effort to reinforce the bridges along I-90 suffered a setback when an excavator slid off a work pad into Blackfoot River, reports the Missoulian. No one was injured in the accident, though the project has stopped while officials from the Army Corps of Engineers review the incident.

The five bridges over the Blackfoot River in Milltown need to upgraded or replaced (in the case of the pedestrian bridge) to withstand the strong flows of the river once the Milltown Dam is removed.

Earlier in October a portion of the work pad embankment – built atop old Blackfoot River sediments — sloughed off into the river. The excavator was reinforcing the bank with rip-rap when it slid into the drink. “It’s a construction project,” said Russ Forba, EPA’s Milltown project manager in a Missoulian interview. “They’re working in a difficult environment.”

October 16, 2006

The Clark Fork River lost a great friend recently with the sudden death of Phil Tourangeau, who died on September 28 following a massive heart attack.

Phil spent his entire career working as a scientist in public service. During much of the last two decades, he worked on Clark Fork River issues for a variety of organizations, including the Milltown Technical Assistance Committee, the predecessor to CFRTAC. Most recently he was a technical advisor to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.

A memorial held October 14 at the Milltown Dam site honoring Phil, his work and his life was attended by dozens of friends, colleagues and family members.

A full obituary is included after the jump.

Phillip C. (Phil) Tourangeau, 63, died on Thursday, Sept. 28, at St. Patrick’s Hospital of complications from a severe heart attack.

Born October 31, 1942, in Syracuse, NY to Ruth Melrose Mahaney and Phillip Earl Staff0rd, his family moved west and lived in several locations before settling in Salt Lake City, where he graduated from South High School in 1960. His studies at the University of Utah were set aside for U.S. Army service in Germany from 1963 to 1966. Upon discharge he transferred his studies to the University of Montana in 1968 and has lived in Missoula since. He concentrated his studies in Biology and Chemistry and received a BA in 1971, with continuing graduate studies in Plant Science and Pollution Problems.

His life’s work was as a scientist in public service. He worked at the Environmental Laboratory at the University of Montana from 1973 to 1985, serving first as Technician and then as Manager. He was Staff Scientist at the Clark Fork – Pend O’reille Coalition from 1988 to 1992; Natural Resources Damages Coordinator for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes from 1993 to 1999 and 2001 to 2006. He was Natural Resources Damages Coordinator for the National Park Service – Grant Kohrs Ranch from 1999 to 2000. He was a member of Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society.

He dedicated himself to gathering reliable information for the public regarding the environmental conditions of the Clark Fork River Superfund Sites. His was a calm, reasoned, steady and determined force for bringing about environmental remediation and natural resource restoration at these sites, including removal of the Milltown Dam.

He loved to travel, often to Pacific Northwest cities. He loved to read, spending many hours in the U.M. Mansfield Library and in Missoula bookstores. In addition to personal family research his special interest was in the history of WWII and the post-war period and he had planned after retirement to visit Germany as a civilian and cross freely through the Brandenburg Gate. He was a good friend to many, all of whom will miss him deeply.

He is preceded in death by both natural parents and is survived by his brother, Ed Tourangeau (Pat) of Lafayette, IN, his stepfather Donald Tourangeau and sister Susan Patterson of Orlando, FL, and his niece Ann Tourangeau of Louisa, VA. At his death the North West Tissue Center facilitated the distribution of anatomical gifts.

Memorials may be made to the U.M. Mansfield Library (Attn: Memorial Donations).

October 13, 2006

The Missoulian today carried an article explaining Envirocon’s effort to assess the feasibility of constructing a bypass channel for the Clark Fork River at Milltown.

Bypass channel work site
Bypass channel work site

The dewatering pilot test will involve the installation of a variety of wells and drains in a selected area along the footprint of the bypass channel (shown above) and then pumping and/or monitoring them to determine how well and easily the sediments and alluvium can be dewatered, thus allowing for the subsequent excavation of the channel.

“If we can’t get the water out of the sediment, then we’re going to have to look at a different way to go about it,” according to Envirocon’s Matt Fein, in a Missoulian interview. “Engineering and planning says it will work, but I wouldn’t want to bet the farm on it until we try it.”

Read the Missoulian’s coverage for more details.

October 13, 2006

The Montana Standard recently featured additional coverage of a meeting held September 28 in Opportunity to discuss the ongoing dust problem associated with the BP-ARCO repository.

The meeting, facilitated by Lois Gibbs of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, was attended by numerous key decision makers from the state, EPA and BP-ARCO.

The complete article is found below.

Forum meets on toxic dust
By Vera Haffey of The Montana Standard - 10/11/2006

ANACONDA — It took months to arrange a meeting day that suited all of  the parties involved. But organizers say they’re happy with the  progress made at a recent forum held to discuss toxic dust that blows  from Arco-British Petroleum’s 3,500-acre mining waste repository to  property and homes in Opportunity.

“In New York, we don’t call it an informational meeting, we call it  an accountability meeting,” said moderator Lois Gibbs, whose  environmental activist work at Love Canal spawned Superfund law.  “These are the folks who are supposed to fix the problem.”  Representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, Department  of Environmental Quality, Arco and the county met face to face with  residents to hammer out differences and air concerns about a recent  dust mitigation plan.

“It was wonderful,” Maureen Robinson of the Opportunity Citizens’  Protection Association said of the gathering that appeared to  generate movement from the decision-makers. “We’re feeling really  good about it.” That loosely written plan, proposed by Arco in  response to citizens’ complaints, was criticized by residents and  rejected by county leaders who asked the governor and attorney  general to intervene.

Jim Kuipers of Kuipers and Associates of Butte, who provides  technical assistance to the county, gave background on the long- standing dust problem that dates back to the erection of the main  stack in 1918 to the time the smelter closed in 1980.

After the plant was shuttered, a care and maintenance routine was put  in place, with an interim water treatment and dust suppression  program, he said.

But in 1996, Arco discontinued those interim dust mitigation measures.

“About all I can say is look where we are today,” Kuipers said.  “Maybe one can say if they hadn’t been discontinued, we wouldn’t be  having this meeting.” Arco representative Gavin Scalley defended  Arco’s work practices. He said that organization has improved dust  control techniques in several ways during the past few months.

“On the ground, everyday, we’re doing things differently,” he said.

More water is sprayed on haul roads and problem areas now. Earth in  borrow areas is “pre-wet.” Interim seeding is taking place. Work  orders are altered to make problem sites a priority, and work on the  streamside tailings is moving faster than planned.

Two major improvements in technique involve the more liberal use of  magnesium chloride to bond the surface of roads, and application of a  polymer surfactant material to hold down the dust.

Even so, those measures haven’t made an appreciable difference in the  air that Opportunity residents breathe — especially during “dust  events,” said citizens who still don’t know exactly what’s in that air.

Sandy Olsen, who represented the Department of Environmental Quality,  agreed, especially when it comes to monitoring.

“We believe that the dust monitoring program needs to be expanded,”  she told the group, adding that additional mitigation measures need  to be used to make sure dust is controlled.

— Reporter Vera Haffey may be reached via e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

October 9, 2006

Reaction to the recently released Butte Priority Soils Record of Decision (ROD) has been mixed. For Montana Public Radio, CFRTAC volunteer Pat Munday offered his preliminary assessment of the ROD. Here’s a snippet:

First, the good news: EPA will accelerate the schedule for testing and cleanup of toxic dust in our homes; and, the agency will require thorough monitoring of surface and ground water from reclaimed areas. The bad news? The notorious Parrot tailings will be left in place, where they can continue to bleed contamination into the ground water; and Arco-British Petroleum gets nearly full credit for all the work it has done to date. Much of that work involved covering up toxic mine waste – you know, cap it and fence it – and did not allow for public comment.

To read more, check out the full commentary (PDF).

Also last week, the Montana Standard reported that environmental advocate John Ray had filed a complaint with Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of the Inspector General, contending that the Montana EPA office failed to consider environmental justice issues at the Superfund site. The Standard’s article is featured below:

Ray complains about EPA cleanup
By Roberta Forsell Stauffer of The Montana Standard - 10/06/2006

Butte resident John Ray is again taking his Superfund objections to the highest levels of the federal government.

This week Ray filed a complaint with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of the Inspector General In Washington, D.C. He alleges that Montana’s EPA office violated the agency’s mandate to consider environmental justice issues on the Butte Priority Soils Superfund site.

He hopes his efforts will force the agency to hold off on finalizing its Record of Decision for the site until these allegations of discrimination against poor people are addressed.

Ray contends EPA ignored its obligation to reach out to low-income citizens who live within the 5-square-mile site stretching roughly from Walkerville south to Timber Butte. He believes the environmental justice mandate should have compelled officials to give special weight to the needs of poor people while crafting a cleanup plan.

He also alleges further discrimination since the particular health risks that poor people face from exposure to mine waste were not given special consideration. Ray said he’s been assigned a case number and should hear back from Washington in five to seven weeks. He also sent a formal complaint to the EPA regional office in Denver and asked Montana’s Congressional delegation to look into the issue.

In a brief phone interview Thursday, Montana EPA office Director John Wardell questioned whether environmental justice issues apply to the site.

“We’re not treating those folks (low-income residents) any differently than we’re treating any homeowner or family throughout Butte,” he said.

The decision requires that all homes and apartments in the site be tested for heavy metals and arsenic and cleaned if the toxins are getting into the living space. Even homes outside the site borders will be sampled and cleaned, if needed, and public education and outreach programs are mandated as well.

Nevertheless, Wardell said the agency is taking Ray’s complaint seriously.

“We’ve sent the complaint to the folks who are intimately familiar with the (environmental justice) program and we’ll wait to hear,” Wardell said.

October 4, 2006

From Peter Nielsen of the Missoula Valley Water Quality District comes this update on progress at the Milltown Superfund Site:

Construction work has begun at the Milltown Reservoir Superfund Site. The Reservoir is drawn down 11.25 feet below full pool elevation. Turbidity has increased noticeably in the river downstream, but water quality remains below construction limits and water quality standards.

Bridges and construction pads

The photo above, courtesy Gary and Judy Matson, shows the progress of work to fortify the embankments of the Interstate 90 bridges over the Blackfoot River. This work is under the direction of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers, and is being performed by Spaulding Construction and GeoCon. Concrete is being injected underground along the base of each embankment, through a process called jet grouting. The concrete is injected in interlocking columns that go down 44 feet to bedrock. Additional work will be performed on the embankments, abutments and center piers of the Interstate and Highway 200 bridges over the coming year. This will strengthen the bridges so they can withstand the forces of a free-flowing Blackfoot River following dam removal in early 2008. The access road on the west side of the river (left) is constructed in the location where the Milltown Redevelopment Working Group has proposed a pedestrian trail be constructed following cleanup and restoration, linking the Bonner and Milltown communities with the confluence and a proposed interpretive center to be built near the current dam site.

Clark Fork and Blackfoot Confluence

The image above shows the confluence of the Blackfoot River (left) and Clark Fork River (right) from the bluff overlooking the dam (lower left hand corner). Note the shallow submerged sediments just upstream of the dam in the river channel. These are the sediments that are eroding and causing increased turbidity downstream. The sediments in the triangle shaped area between the two rivers are the most heavily contaminated in the reservoir, and were washed downstream from the Butte and Anaconda area during flood events, mainly the 1908 flood. These sediments have become exposed since the drawdown began in June. Vegetation, including some grasses and willows, have started to re-vegetate these sediments in the past few months. In the background of this photo, near the Interstate, construction activity conducted by Envirocon is now visible.

Construction area

This image is a close-up of the Envirocon construction area. This work is known as the dewatering and bypass channel constructability test. Envirocon is installing wells and wick drains to draw water out the sediments in the area where the bypass channel will be constructed. Over the next two months Envirocon will drain and pump water from the sediments, and construct a section of the bypass channel. Pumping of water from the site is expected to begin October 16. Excavation of the bypass channel will begin by about November 1, and will remove contaminated sediments down to the native river gravels, about 20 feet below the current ground surface. Water will be discharged to the Clark Fork River, and monitored closely to ensure that water quality remains within construction limits and standards. This work will allow the company to refine the design of the bypass channel, which is scheduled to be completed within the next year. The Clark Fork River is scheduled to be diverted into the bypass channel in the fall of 2007, prior to the second reservoir drawdown which will lower the water surface an additional 6 feet. The purpose of the bypass channel is to protect the most contaminated reservoir sediments from erosion when the reservoir is drawn down and the dam removed.

About 300 to 400 logs in the Blackfoot River upstream of the former Bonner Dam will be removed from the river banks by the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. These logs were floated down the river to the mill before roads and the railroad extended up the Blackfoot, and were collected behind the Bonner Dam, which was removed last fall. Timber crib piers in the Blackfoot River behind the mill will be removed by the Army Corps of Engineers in November and December.

EPA has replaced 13 domestic wells that were affected by the lower water table in the aquifer caused by the reservoir drawdown. The water table has dropped about 4-6 feet in Milltown and West Riverside, near the Reservoir, as compared to historical water levels when the reservoir was full.

October 3, 2006

Both the Missoulian and its sister paper the Montana Standard featured coverage of a community meeting in Opportunity on the ongoing dust problem associated with the BP-ARCO repository. The meeting (PDF), organized by CFRTAC and the Opportunity Citizens Protection Association, was moderated by environmental justice advocate Lois Gibbs. CFRTAC will soon feature additional coverage.

October 3, 2006

Water quality in the Clark Fork River below Milltown dam was monitored daily for turbidity (the “cloudiness” of the water) and weekly for suspended sediment, metals, and arsenic. Upstream sites on the Blackfoot River and on the Clark Fork at Turah were also monitored weekly for metals, arsenic, and sediment.

Starting on September 18th and continuing until the end of the month, the reservoir level was lowered by another foot and a half for a total of almost 11 feet. This drawdown was a continuation of the first drawdown that began June 1st, but was suspended in early July due to mortality of caged fish and high river temperatures.

In early September, turbidity and sediment levels below Milltown Dam remained low, along with very low river flows. Levels of dissolved metals and arsenic were also low during this period and typical of the levels usually seen in the river at this time of year. After the drawdown resumed, turbidity below the dam increased somewhat, but did not exceed 12 NTU, which is the trigger value for daily metals sampling. In the second half of September, turbidity did exceed 6 NTU several times, resulting in turbidity sampling three times per day instead of once per day. Dissolved arsenic increased slightly at both the Turah station (upstream of the dam) and at the monitoring station below the dam, and dissolved zinc increased slightly below the dam. However all arsenic and dissolved metal concentrations were well below the applicable water quality standards and warning limits throughout the month.

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks biologists are continuing caged fish studies with the resumption of drawdown, but results are not yet available. If you see one of the cages, please don’t disturb it. This study supplies critical information for monitoring effects of the Milltown project.

October 3, 2006

More than three hundred logs will be removed the Blackfoot River bed and banks this fall, according to the Montana Department of Natural Resources & Conservation. Long submerged by the Bonner Dam, the logs began to appear after that dam was removed last fall and the subsequent drawdown of the Milltown Reservoir. “The logs pose a threat to the Milltown Dam radial gate and spillway if they were to float downstream next spring during the run-off and plug the radial gate creating both safety and operational control problems,” said Tony Liane, a DNRC spokesman. For more details, see the DNRC press release or the Missoulian’s coverage.

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