After more than 30 years on the EPA’s Superfund National Priorities List, the federal agency has given Butte a date for finalization of a legally binding cleanup deal for the Butte Hill and the Upper Silver Bow Creek corridor.
On Friday, outgoing EPA Regional Administrator Doug Benevento sent a letter to the negotiating parties, giving them until August 12 to iron out the remaining details.
Andrew Mutter is the public affairs director for EPA Region 8.
"This 135 day letter is our official notification to the parties, as part of the consent decree, that we’re going to move forward with the negotiations," Mutter said.
The consent decree is an agreement overseen by a federal judge. The parties that Friday’s letter were sent to include Atlantic Richfield Company, Butte-Silver Bow county, the state of Montana, and EPA. Mutter says if they don’t meet that deadline for an agreement, "The regional administrator, in consult with the U.S. Department of Justice, can extend the negotiations up to 60 days without notifying the court. However, we feel it really important that if any sort of negotiations were to continue, that we would notify the court immediately that we were going to continue with the discussions."
If the negotiations fail, EPA still retains the option to unilaterally order Atlantic Richfield, which is on the hook for most of the cleanup, to finish the work, if necessary.
A critical part of the new deal involves modifications to the EPA's 2006 cleanup plan. Before any ink dries on the consent decree, the public will have a chance to review those recommended changes to the remedy. EPA expects to release that “proposed plan” for public comment in mid-April.
If you don’t know Butte Montana, you might have heard it’s one of the biggest toxic messes in the country. But now the “mining city” is on the verge of sealing a deal that could clean it up once and for all.
So how did we get here? What comes after Superfund? And who gets to decide?
Find out on Richest Hill, a new podcast from Montana Public Radio, available at https://buttepodcast.org or wherever you get your podcasts.