Last night Anaconda residents got their first chance to hear about the conceptual Superfund cleanup agreement reached over the weekend with the Environmental Protection Agency, but few details were shared.
Anaconda-Deer Lodge County Chief Executive Officer Bill Everett told about 50 people at a meeting at Anaconda High School last night, “this is not a Disneyland deal that we’ve put together. That’s not what this is about. I think what we’ve developed will put Anaconda in a position where we can move forward successfully and in a very healthy fashion.”
Anaconda’s 300 square mile smelter site has been on EPA’s Superfund list since 1983. More than a century of operations left the air, soil and water there contaminated with heavy metals.
There’s been some cleanup, but a final agreement has never been negotiated between the state, EPA, Atlantic Richfield, and Anaconda-Deer Lodge County.
But details in the new conceptual agreement still can’t be revealed, because of a previously existing gag order.
“We’re asking for grace here," EPA Region 8 Administrator Doug Benevento said, and that even though the negotiating parties can’t share much now, they wanted to open a dialogue, and aren’t intentionally holding back information.
“There is not a person up here that is thrilled to be sitting here having to say I can’t tell you because there’s a confidentiality order,” Benevento said.
Benevento said the negotiating parties will now ask a federal judge to allow them to share more details.
Then, EPA plans to host “stakeholder working sessions” once the draft plan is released.
“I want to emphasize this is beyond what is required by local, state or federal law," Benevento said. "There is a mandatory comment period when you file something like this with the court. This is months before that happens.”
Some locals remain frustrated and skeptical.
“My question is: Is Anaconda-Deer Lodge County and the good folks that govern here gonna have more of a voice about what we need to get done and when we need to get it done? So we can get past this and move on? Thirty years is a long time," said A.J. Paddock.
State Budget Director Dan Villa said the answer is yes.
“Governor Bullock has said the state of Montana will not sign off on that consent decree, unless Anaconda-Deer Lodge County signs off on the consent decree," Villa said, "and I think what is important to emphasize in this process is with the consent decree, we will no longer be a Superfund site in 2025. That will be over.”
Only EPA, Atlantic Richfield, and the state of Montana are required by Superfund law to approve the final cleanup agreement.
EPA’s Doug Benevento said this spring that his goal is to have a signed consent decree for Anaconda’s Superfund cleanup by the end of 2018. That’s now been pushed back to early 2019.