WARM SPRINGS — Gov. Steve Bullock toured a Superfund site along the upper Clark Fork River Wednesday, proclaiming that the work begun there will be felt for generations to come.
The cleanup project near Warm Springs includes removing historic mining waste from the banks and the floodplain of the upper Clark Fork, as well as restoring the banks of the river there.
The brunt of the cleanup work began in early March. Approximately 102,000 cubic yards of mining waste has already been removed and placed at a repository site in Opportunity. Eventually, 330,000 cubic yards of waste will be removed from the area and trucked to Opportunity.
Nearly 6,000 feet of streambank restoration work has also been completed.
Bullock said he’s happy to see dirt finally being moved along this stretch of the river.
“It’s a long time coming,” Bullock told The Montana Standard on Wednesday. “It’s important to the agricultural heritage here. It’s important to the fishery, and it’s important to the overall economy — not just today with the 30 people working this site, but for the long-term sustainable of the Deer Lodge valley.”
The work at the site near Warm Springs is the first phase of a cleanup along the 47 miles of the upper Clark Fork. The work at the Warm Springs site is expected to be completed sometime next year, according to Department of Environmental Quality project officer Brian Bartkowiak.
Montana DEQ Director Tracy Stone-Manning said the remediation and restoration work along the entire upper Clark Fork from Warm Springs to the confluence of the Little Black Foot River near Garrison, will cost $111 million dollars and take about 15 years to complete.
That money is part of the approximately $300 million received by the state in its lawsuit against the Atlantic Richfield Co. for injuries to natural resources caused by mining waste. The lawsuit against ARCO, brought under federal and state superfund law, was filed in 1983. It was settled in three separate agreements in 1999, 2005 and 2008.
“We’ve had this contamination for 100 years, and we’ve had decades since the consent decree was entered, so just getting it going, and knowing this is just step one of what will be about 15 years of cleanup is significant,” Bullock said.
Bullock also said he understood any frustration the people of Opportunity might feel about having the mining waste deposited in their community, but the governor also said it makes sense to do so because the tailings from the cleanup of the Milltown section of the Clark Fork have already been placed there.
“In context, it’s less than
3 percent of what the tailings already are in Opportunity,” Bullock said. “So it certainly isn’t a ‘let’s take soils and put them in Opportunity because we want to dump on the area.’ Given the overall size of the repository site there, it makes sense. And long-term, the people will have this healthy river and ecosystem.”
Stone-Manning also stressed that the Opportunity repository site will be out of the floodplain.
“It’s high and dry and safe,” she said.
Finally, Bullock said the work is significant to the approximately 300 landowners along the upper Clark Fork, and he said it will have a long-lasting effect.
“Yes, we’ll see a (positive) impact within a year,” Bullock said. “But long-term, it’s going to have an impact long after the DEQ director and I get to serve. It will be felt for generations to come.”
Reporter Francis Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.