Montana Public Radio

Cleanup Nearly Complete On Upper Blackfoot Mining Complex Near Lincoln

Jan 21, 2021

State and federal officials say a large mining clean-up project in Montana is nearly complete and open for recreation.

At the Upper Blackfoot Mining Complex east of Lincoln, crews have removed roughly 1 million cubic yards of tailings and mine waste. The area is the former site of a lead and zinc mine along with the six-and-a-half-story high Mike Horse Dam, which is made of mining waste.

The dam partially failed in the 1970s, flushing contaminated material downstream for almost 10 miles and into the Blackfoot River.

Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality said in a Tuesday press release that cleanup of the mine site, the Blackfoot River and the river's tributaries is nearly complete and the area is open for recreation. The nonprofit Blackfoot Challenge is working on a self-guided tour with information kiosks about the unique plants and wildlife, as well as the history of mining in the area.

DEQ, Montana’s Department of Justice and the U.S. Forest Service coordinated the reclamation work, along with stream and floodplain restoration. Funding came from a nearly $40 million settlement with the mining companies Atlantic Richfield and ASARCO.

While a majority of the work is done, the press release said smaller areas disturbed by past exploration and mining practices outside the floodplains still need to be investigated.

The Forest Service will continue to manage part of the Upper Blackfoot Mining Complex; the Montana Environmental Trust Group will oversee the former mining areas.