Montana Public Radio

Feds Agree To Settle Powell County Oil Cleanup Debt

Feb 7, 2020

The U.S. Department of Treasury has agreed to settle a Montana county’s debt for the cleanup of a 2011 oil spill. Montana’s Congressional delegation announced the settlement Friday following their bipartisan pressure on the federal department.

Powell County Attorney Kathryn McEnery says the treasury department has agreed to accept the county’s offer to pay $200,000 for the past cleanup of the Milwaukee Roundhouse site in Deer Lodge.

The fuel oil, which required cleanup, was discovered in 2011 from an abandoned tank used by Milwaukee Railroad close to a tributary of the Clark Fork River. The U.S. Coast Guard billed the county around $4 million for that work.

Aerial view of Deer Lodge, Montana.
Credit Sam Beebe (CC-BY-2) / https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9094066

"The $4 million was completely out of reach," McEnery says.

Montana’s U.S. Senators Jon Tester and Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte wrote multiple letters to the Secretary of Treasury Steve Mnuchin asking the federal department to absolve or settle the debt burden. In a letter from June 2018, the delegation wrote that Powell County simply couldn't afford to pay the bill.

All three members of the delegation praised the settlement in a press release.

County Attorney McEnery says Powell County commissioners still need to give their final approval of the settlement.