BUTTE - One Superfund cleanup in Butte-Silver Bow County is officially complete.
Gov. Steve Bullock toured Durant Canyon along Silver Bow Creek Wednesday to celebrate the end of the state's joint cleanup and restoration of the 26-mile stretch of creekbed and bank. Approximately 20 federal, state and local officials joined Bullock for the tour.
The tour ended at a fish barrier built by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality to protect native Westslope cutthroat trout. Jason Lindstrom, state fisheries manager, said the barrier protects the native fish from breeding with non-native rainbow trout and brown trout. Westslope cutthroat live on both sides of the barrier but rainbow and brown trout live only downstream of the barrier, which is close to Fairmont Road.
The barrier cost $500,000, paid with restoration money, project manager Joel Chavez said.
Overall, the most recent figures show the cleanup costs are $120 million for the 26-mile length of streambed and $8 million spent to restore the banks, bringing the total cost to $128 million for approximately 1,500 acres, Chavez said Wednesday.
That leaves $45 million available for cleanup. What happens with that money is still up for discussion.
Bullock told the Standard he doesn't know yet how the $45 million will be spent, but Upper Silver Bow Creek and the Butte Hill are part of the discussion, including the Parrot tailings, a contaminated underground plume in Butte.
"I understand the frustration with how long it's taking (for decisions to be made) and I share in that frustration," Bullock told the Standard. "I'm steadfast and committed to removing the Parrot and getting the stream issues resolved."
Environmental Protection Agency Region 8 administrator Shaun McGrath flew in from Denver headquarters for the tour. EPA is the supporting agency in the state DEQ’s cleanup work on the lower portion of the stream. EPA also has a say in what happens with the $45 million.
McGrath said he could not speak about the future of the money, but he acknowledged the Parrot tailings have been part of the discussion.
Some of the $45 million will need to be set aside for ongoing operation and maintenance of lower Silver Bow Creek. DEQ also has to redo some of the earliest work just past the Interstate 90 overpass. Chavez said that work would likely take about a year to complete. The cost of the redo work and the operations and maintenance is being figured out, Chavez said.
During the speeches, much praise went to Chavez, who got a difficult job done and did so under budget and "did that on a public servant’s salary," Bullock said.
DEQ diverted creek water through pipe while digging up the streambed to remove the 5.8 million cubic yards of tailings and contaminated dirt. Bullock likened that to filling up Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula 21 times "to the brim."
Before the work began in 1999, Silver Bow Creek looked like a moonscape, Natural Resource Damage Council environmental science specialist Greg Mullen said during the tour of Durant Canyon.
"There were no bugs, no fish. It's a miracle how quick it's come back," Mullen said.
In 2012, the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks set fishing restrictions on Silver Bow Creek for catch and release of Westslope cutthroat. That is the first fishing regulation ever established on the creek because for 100 years, there were no fish in the waterway, Lindstrom said.
Butte-Silver Bow Chief Executive Matt Vincent gave a personal perspective on what the cleanup means for Butte.
When he was a teen, Vincent said the waterway was known as "Sxxx Creek." He recalled throwing beer cans and spinning donuts in a truck on the stream's lifeless banks.
Now, Vincent said his 10-year-old son, Rye, calls the waterway Silver Bow Creek and loves to fish there, even more so than the Big Hole River.
"We can pass this off to the next generation," Vincent said, standing beside the free-flowing creek. "Thanks to Joel, who spent the lion's share of his career making this possible."