Montana Public Radio

Butte Tailings Removal Project Reaches Next Phase

Jan 28, 2021

A major mine waste cleanup in central Butte is entering a new phase of tailings removal in February.

After years of debate on how to handle the heaps of mine waste just outside the city’s civic center, work began on the Parrot Tailings in 2018. The waste was left behind by a smelter that ran in Butte for about two decades in the late 1800s.

The tailings themselves contain arsenic, lead, zinc and cadmium, all of which can leach into the city’s creeks. Those creeks are headwaters to the Clark Fork and eventually Columbia rivers.

The second phase of the tailings removal starts next month. At a Wednesday evening public meeting, Jim Ford with the state’s Natural Resource Damage Program discussed what the new phase means for the city.

The tailings dump for the Parrot smelter, built in 1881. The smelter sat on the site of the current Butte Civic Center.

"This area’s been a problem for the surface water and the creeks for well over a century," he said.

Intermountain Construction Services of Butte will move about 310,000 cubic yards of mine waste and slag. The project's first phase removed nearly 400,000 cubic yards of contamination. Combined, that’s the equivalent of more than 200 Olympic swimming pools full of toxic waste. 

This second phase of the program will cost about $8.7 million and is expected to end in 2022. The Parrot Tailings project is separate from the city’s $150 million consent decree it signed last year to clean up other mine waste in and around the city.