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Montana DEQ To Update Lincoln Residents On Upper Blackfoot Mining Cleanup

Montana Department of Environmental Quality
Dam Removal at Upper Blackfoot Mining Cleanup Site

State environmental officials will update Lincoln this evening on a major mine waste clean-up project in the Upper Blackfoot Valley.

The old and creaky Mike Horse Dam once lay at the headwaters of the Blackfoot River. But not anymore. Its removal was part of a $40 million cleanup of the Upper Blackfoot Mining Complex.

Jenny Chambers is with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

“Yes, that’s one of the successes that we’re going to be talking about tonight – all of the work that we’ve done to date. One of those major successes is that we removed the dam. All the waste associated with that dam is gone and disposed of in a repository,” Chambers said.

For decades miners extracted lead and zinc from the upper Blackfoot, leaving behind hazardous waste such as heavy metals and arsenic.

Chambers describes the Upper Blackfoot Mining cleanup as complex with lots of moving parts. She says the cooperating agencies wanted to take their time to get the final phase right. That includes hauling additional tailings from Beartrap and Mike Horse Creeks, making plans to close a waste repository off Highway 279, in addition to other restoration and remediation goals.

The Montana DEQ and its partners, the Forest Service and the state Justice Department started cleanup a few years ago.

DEQ’s Jenny Chambers says the state hit the pause button last winter to reevaluate priorities and take a fresh look at the path forward.

“We were not ready to go out in the spring of last year, so we finished the work from 2016, only worked about six to eight weeks during this last construction season and are now working closely on the final bids so that we can go next spring and summer and start construction again,” she said.

There’s about $12 million left to complete the project. This evening’s meeting with the Lincoln Community council starts at 6:30 at the Lewis and Clark Library.

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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