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 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.