28 November 2008

Superfund News from Deer Lodge and Butte, Montana

[This is a modified version of a Montana Public Radio commentary that I wrote & delivered for the Clark Fork River Technical Assistance Committee.]

It’s elk season, and we dedicated hunters are working this second job until the weekend after Thanksgiving. Cut us a little slack if we doze off at work or have trouble concentrating during early morning meetings. On my hunting trips, I drive past the Silver Bow Creek Superfund cleanup work in the Fairmont area. Though the weather has been lousy for elk hunting, it’s been very good for the extended construction/environmental restoration season.

Good news again this year from Silver Bow Creek: long nose suckers and slimy sculpins have colonized remediated reaches near Butte, Rocker, and Ramsay. As in recent years, a few trout also turned up near the confluence with German Gulch Creek. The ongoing improvement in aquatic habitat highlights the need for a permanent fish barrier [this link is about a permanent barrier on German Gulch Creek, similar to what is needed on Silver Bow Creek] to halt the upstream migration of exotic rainbow trout. Several tributaries hold populations of native westslope cutthroat trout, and we don’t want to lose native populations to hybridization. Currently, a temporary barrier is in place on Silver Bow Creek, but the state needs to design, fund, and build a permanent barrier.

Back in September, Butte hosted the National Summit of Mining Communities. Hundreds of mining community residents, agency personnel, and corporate representatives shared their experience of the boom and bust cycles of mining. The Clark Fork watershed communities of Butte, Anaconda, Opportunity, Deer Lodge, and Milltown have grown in our capacity to cooperate in the struggle for environmental clean up and restoration.

Talking with folks from Rico, Colorado was like meeting up with long-lost cousins. You see, Rico is also home to an Arco-BP Superfund site. The strategies Arco-BP implemented in Rico will sound very familiar to Clark Fork residents: take it or leave it; divide and conquer; buy off local government with “cover up” remedies disguised as community amenities such as parks or golf courses; and “Oh, we’re just a poor corporation unfairly tagged with Superfund liability, doing the best we can.”

Maybe we should organize a national summit of communities that cope with Arco-BP Superfund. This “Arco World” includes: Brunswick, Georgia; Bald Mountain, California; Buffalo, New York; Liberty, Texas; Yerington, Nevada; the Washoe Tribe of California; and Harbor Island, Washington.

In other Butte news, CFRTAC’s sister Superfund Technical Assistance Group – the Citizens Technical Environmental Committee or CTEC for short – is in its fourth incarnation. It’s interesting how the group has come and gone over the past twenty years, changing its membership and focus as local Superfund went through different phases. Currently, the group seems to be focusing on post-remedy restoration issues, but there are still some remedies to be hashed out around the Butte Hill, so stay posted for more news.

Downstream a piece, CFRTAC recently hosted a meeting in Deer Lodge about implementing clean up on the Clark Fork River. Montana has the lead in the 123 million dollar project, and work is to begin next year and take about ten years. Clean up will focus on tailings and streambanks, with a range of site-specific actions from no treatment to major removal and revegetation.

Two areas are of special interest. One is near the trestle on the south edge of Deer Lodge. Preliminary testing indicates extremely high arsenic levels that could pose a serious human health hazard. The current action levels for arsenic removal are 150 parts per million for residential and 680 parts per million for recreational areas such as Arrowstone Park. In Butte, Opportunity, and Anaconda, levels were set at 250 for residential and 500 for recreational land. The large difference in these levels is yet another instance of the inconsistencies in applying Superfund at various sites in the Upper Clark Fork River Basin.

A thorough sampling plan is underway around the trestle. Once results are in, a remedy will be developed that could include everything up to major removal and trestle reconstruction.

The other area of special interest is East Side Road south of Deer Lodge. Ten years ago, EPA directed ARCO to remove or treat contaminated soils on a number of properties. Apparently, no follow up occurred, so the state will sample and evaluate the previous actions. Where necessary, the state will implement additional clean up or treatment.

CFRTAC collected a number of questions following the meeting, and answers are pending.

For more news about the Deer Lodge meeting, Milltown, and related Superfund issues, please go to CFRTAC’s website at http://www.cfrtac.org.

From Butte to Missoula, we deserve a clean, healthy, and accessible Clark Fork River. It’s your river. Wade in, and help make the future.

1 comment:

Jennifer S. said...

Haha, thanks... Philosophy professor? Sounds great! My parents would freak out, though. :)
It's totally okay about the pictures. I'm a little squeamish when it comes to blood and stuff like that.. :P
About my generation. There certainly are a lot of teens with bright outlooks and wonderful ideas for the future, but - as I've discovered living in Arkansas for eight years - there are so many hedonistic people not the least bit concerned with the environment or politics. It's really frustrating; I think that is one of the things we need to work on, because such a multitude of ignorant people can really pose a threat. It's not always their fault... they just don't care. :(