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Parties To Final Butte Cleanup Deal Say They Need More Time

The Berkeley Pit in Butte
Mike Albans
The Berkeley Pit in Butte

Today is the day when a milestone in Butte’s Superfund cleanup was supposed to have been reached: a final Superfund deal for the Butte Hill. Now the parties negotiating that agreement say they need a little more time. 

On his last day on the job, former EPA Regional boss Doug Benevento told the parties hashing out the deal that they had until August 12 to get it done.

But today that legally-binding consent decree, or CD, has not yet been signed, sealed, or delivered. The EPA’s Chris Wardell says his agency and the parties it’s negotiating with, - the state, county, and Atlantic Richfield, have asked for a 30 day extension.

"I would say that the CD parties have made substantial progress," Wardell says, "and that this extension just allows for more of the specifics to be completely agreed to and outlined."

Wardell says EPA has to respond to the more than 500 individual comments they received on changes they want to make to Butte’s 2006 legal Superfund cleanup plan, and that’s taking time. Those proposed changes are the backbone of this final financial deal.

Wardell says once the consent decree negotiations are over, it will take several more weeks to get the deal signed and lodged in the district court. The whole process is overseen by a federal judge. But it’s critical to get all the parties on board with the agreement, so that new deadline is not set in stone.

"If we need another 30 days, if we think we’re close to the CD but we’re not quite there, then we can extend it as well," he says. "But really, we and the CD parties want to wrap this up so the public has some certainty.

Butte resident Northey Tretheway says he’s not surprised negotiations are taking a little longer, and that being thorough is better than making hasty decisions just to meet a timeline.

"How many years have we been going through this Superfund effort? Two months to make sure it’s done right, if that’s what the two months is going to help with, is beneficial," Tretheway says. 

Tretheway is with the grassroots Restore Our Creek Coalition, and says for them, the delay is a good thing. It gives the group more time to push for a restored Silver Bow Creek in the center of town. And more time to inform the public about the big Superfund decisions underway right now.

"And we want to make sure as citizens who live here, the true stakeholders, are aware of what we are going to end up having forever," he says. 

So far, Atlantic Richfield has spent an estimated $280 million on cleaning up Butte Priority Soils, and if this deal goes through, the company plans to spend at least $100 million more.

After 32 years on the Superfund National Priorities list, the Environmental Protection Agency expects the ink will be dried on Butte’s final cleanup deal this October.

Nora Saks is a reporter and producer based in Butte, MT.
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