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New plan will guide cleanup efforts on the Clark Fork River

A slicken along the shore of the upper Clark Fork River. Slickens are wedges of the otherwise vibrant floodplain that are totally barren due to the high concentrations of heavy metals
Nick Mott
Montana Public Radio

State environmental officials have released a new strategic plan that will guide cleanup efforts on the Clark Fork River for the next 15 years.

The Strategic Plan for the Clark Fork cleanup focuses on a 43 mile stretch of the river from Warm Springs up to Garrison. With funding for the efforts expected to run out in the coming decades before the cleanup is finished, state officials have a new plan for the work that they say is more targeted, flexible, and crucially, cost-effective.

Alex Leone of the Clark Fork Coalition, said the updated plan is the most significant development in the river’s cleanup in years.

“We’re really excited to see all of the science and thought that went into this. And, recognizing all of the constraints that the state is under, this is a really good faith effort,” Leone said.

This section of river was polluted after a massive flood in 1908 deposited tons of toxic mine waste across the floodplain. Funding for the clean up was provided in a 2008 agreement that saw the Atlantic Richfield Corporation pay the state over $200 million.

The new plan uses data to project how the river might move over the next 100 years and targets remedial efforts to the highest priority areas where toxic sediments may erode into the river. State officials say the approach will bring cleanup efforts within the $105 million they have left to spend.

The strategic plan sets an end date of 2038 for the completion of remediation and restoration. It will be open for public comment until May 21st, and an informational public meeting will be held on April 25th at 6 p.m., at the Powell County Community Center in Deer Lodge.

John joined the Montana Public Radio team in August 2022. Born and raised in Helena, he graduated from the University of Montana’s School of Media Arts and created the Montana history podcast Land Grab. John can be contacted at
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