Montana Public Radio

Atlantic Richfield

After more than 30 years in limbo without a final cleanup agreement, the ink is drying on Butte’s big Superfund deal as we speak. What it means and why it matters has everything to do with what played out when Superfund came to Montana’s Mining City. So today we’re asking: back in those early days of Superfund, who were the players, and what was the game?

This is episode 06: Our Most Cherished Beliefs.

Uptown Butte, MT.
Mike Albans / Montana Public Radio

Federal officials Thursday revealed more specifics about the timeline and process surrounding the final deal for Butte’s Superfund cleanup, although some details are still murky.

In mid-October, the parties in charge of the cleanup announced they had reached agreement on a final, legally binding deal, marking a turning point in the Mining City’s three-decades-long Superfund saga.

Mine headframes in uptown Butte, MT.
Josh Burnham

This week, the parties in charge of the Superfund cleanup of the Butte Hill and urban creek corridors agreed on a final cleanup deal, marking a turning point in the Mining City’s decades long Superfund saga.

This culvert and forebay pictured on May 28, 2019 are part of Butte's stormwater capture and treatment and system, which will be expanded and completed in the proposed Superfund cleanup plan.
Nora Saks / Montana Public Radio

Montana’s Mining City inches closer and closer to having a final Superfund deal for the cleanup of the Butte Hill and urban creek corridors, but the ink still isn’t quite dry.

Friday was the latest deadline for when the parties in charge of Butte’s Superfund cleanup were supposed to finish hammering out the last details of the legally binding deal. But they’re not going to meet it.

Treated water originating from the Berkeley Pit is discharged into Silver Bow Creek via a 24 inch buried pipe behind these rocks and manhole, Sept. 30, 2019.
Nora Saks / Montana Public Radio

This week, for the first time ever, once toxic water from the Berkeley Pit, the abandoned open pit copper mine in Butte, is being treated and released into the headwaters of the Clark Fork River.

Tim Hilmo (L), Ron Halsey (M) and Greg Frisch (R) with Atlantic Richfield company stand in front of the point where treated water originating in the Berkeley Pit is being discharged into Silver Bow Creek in Butte. September 30, 2019.
Nora Saks / Montana Public Radio

For the first time ever, once-toxic water from the Berkeley Pit, Butte’s abandoned open pit copper mine, is being pumped, treated and discharged into Silver Bow Creek.

About 50 people attended EPA's Superfund meeting at the Anaconda senior center to learn about the agency's proposed updates to the surface water remedy for the Anaconda Regional Waste, Water, and Soils Operable Unit. September 17, 2019.
Nora Saks / Montana Public Radio

The Environmental Protection Agency is rolling out an updated plan to protect Anaconda’s creeks from copper smelter waste. But some locals this week said they’re worried the federal government may back away from Montana’s strict water quality standards for heavy metals.

Those awaiting the final Superfund cleanup deal, or consent decree, for the Butte Hill and urban Silver Bow Creek corridor are going to have to wait a little longer.

AR's operations manager, Ron Halsey, stands in front of the intake pipe that siphons water originating indirectly from the Berkeley Pit into this new water polishing plant. August 6, 2019.
Nora Saks / Montana Public Radio

37 years ago, Atlantic Richfield abandoned an open pit copper mine in Butte and allowed it to flood with toxic mine water. Now, the company estimates they’re one month away from proving they’re in control of the Berkeley Pit. MTPR's Nora Saks got a sneak peek of their new water treatment facility and has more.

Nora Saks

The company that operates the active copper mine in Butte, Montana Resources, is seeking permission to expand its tailings dam, so it can keep mining. But Atlantic Richfield, which shares responsibility for the Berkeley Pit, says one day the dam could collapse, fill the pit and destroy Butte if more isn’t done. Nora Saks sat down with the Montana Standard’s environmental reporter, Susan Dunlap, to find out more.

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