BUTTE – Anaconda-Deer Lodge County is on the brink of an agreement with Atlantic Richfield Company that potentially means the company will pay the county millions of dollars over the next 100 years.
The county anticipates finalizing the "institutional controls agreement" within a few weeks and plans to announce the actual dollar amount at a public meeting to be held Aug. 10. At that meeting, the public will have a chance to weigh in. The agreement is expected to be signed by both ARCO and the county sometime this fall. (See information box.)
Anaconda-Deer Lodge County Superfund Coordinator Carl Nyman said he cannot discuss precisely how much the county will receive from ARCO. The closed-door negotiations have been occurring in fits and starts for more than 10 years.
However, Nyman says the agreement is grounded in public outreach.
“We feel it captures what the community wants to see,” Nyman said.
Known formerly as the global settlement agreement, the institutional controls agreement is expected to help the beleaguered Old Works Golf Course, which has been struggling financially for years. The county had to take out about $1 million in loans from ARCO in 2012, 2014, and again this summer to prop up the world-class, Jack Nicklaus-designed course.
Nyman called the agreement a “three-legged stool.” The county will get money for three different programs: community enhancement, the county’s institutional controls program, and operations and maintenance.
Perhaps the most important component is the operations and maintenance element – partially because this will enable the county to maintain and take care of Old Works without applying for loans in the future. It also will provide maintenance funds for more than 500 acres ARCO deeded to the county in the 1990s.
Nyman estimates that up to 500 acres of the land can be developed. Those portions are on the east side of Anaconda, along Highway 1, and along Mill Creek Road behind the slag piles.
“This will broaden our capacity to redevelop county-owned property,” Nyman said.
The undevelopable areas are on hillsides such as Stuckey Ridge.
Old Works Golf Course is a high-maintenance site. Old Works is complicated because it is more than just a golf course – it is also a cap over waste and must be regularly maintained.
The community enhancement money is expected to go toward creating an industry study to give the county a way forward to try to attract new business and development. The money also could enable the county to hire or expand a couple of county employees' jobs to develop marketing tools to attract more business to Anaconda.
The third leg of the stool is the institutional controls program. The money that goes toward this is expected to maintain what the county has already put in place through EPA grants each year since 2008.
The institutional controls program allows for permitting and enables developers and homeowners to know what they’re getting into if they want to dig or renovate an existing site.
Anaconda Local Development Corporation executive director Jim Davidson said he is excited to hear about the impending agreement because “so many things were left up in the air for so long.”
“This will give us some certainty,” Davidson said. “Uncertainty is the worst thing you can have when you’re trying to develop. This will allow us to move forward a little bit.”
Davidson said one thing that is currently being discussed is the development of a resort near the golf course to try to help attract golf aficionados from across the country.
“Knowing the course is stable will strengthen that effort,” Davidson said.
Nyman said the county preferred to arrange for a long-term payment rather than get one lump sum from ARCO because, after Anaconda’s copper smelter closed in 1980, ARCO gave $3 million to the county. Much of that went to help a couple of businesses that were supposed to provide jobs to the community, but the businesses went bust. That left the county with little to show for what they got.
Anaconda’s EPA project manager Charlie Coleman said the agreement puts into place “mechanisms to provide funding for however long it is needed.”
Nyman calls the agreement a “long-term partnership” with ARCO.
If ARCO, owned by parent company BP, cannot meet its financial obligations at some point in the future, an insurance policy has been put into place so Anaconda will continue to get the promised funding each year, no matter what happens with ARCO or BP.
BP declined to comment.
Nyman stressed that the agreement does not absolve ARCO from being the responsible party to the site. Nyman estimates that cleanup work will need to continue for another 10 to 15 years.
Nyman also said the agreement is not meant to compensate the town for 100 years of smelting activity but to help the county implement the institutional controls program, which needs to be in place in order to protect human health and the environment.
“ARCO has no obligation for a redevelopment fund,” Nyman said. “But the agencies and ARCO need to have a program in place because it’s part of the record of decision.”
The record of decision is the EPA document that determines the damage and what the cleanup will be.
Anaconda’s smelter – one of the tallest brick structures in the world – is now a state park, although visitors cannot gain entry. The smelter turned raw ore into usable copper. The ore came by rail car from the nearby Butte mines for decades.
ARCO bought Anaconda Copper Mining Company in 1977. It closed the smelter in 1980. The site became a Superfund site in the 1980s.
Calls to Anaconda-Deer Lodge County Chief Executive Connie Ternes-Daniels were not returned by press time.