MTPR

Atlantic Richfield

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.

Eric Hassler (L) and Jon Sesso (R) are Butte-Silver Bow's Superfund operations manager and coordinator, pictured here at Catch Basin 8. May 28, 2019.
Nora Saks

The deadline for comments on EPA’s proposed changes to Butte’s Superfund cleanup is fast approaching. MTPR's Nora Saks went in the field with two of Butte-Silver Bow’s Superfund staff to find out more about the county’s take on the plan, their role, and what stormwater’s got to do with it.

Loren Burmeister (L) and Josh Bryson (R) are the liability business manager and operations project manager for Atlantic Richfield in Butte, pictured outside the company's local headquarters. April 22, 2019
Nora Saks

After more than 30 years, the Environmental Protection Agency, the state of Montana and Butte Silver Bow County are close to signing a final Superfund deal with Atlantic Richfield for the cleanup of the Butte Hill and creek corridors in town. Atlantic Richfield, the former American oil giant, is the company on the hook for most of the pollution caused by historic mining and smelting operations in Butte and across the upper Clark Fork River basin.

The Berkeley Pit.
Nora Saks / Montana Public Radio

Atlantic Richfield is proposing to build a new water treatment plant to further lower the level of the toxic lake inside the Berkeley Pit, in case the tailings dam that sits directly above it ever fails.

Barbara Miller with Habitat for Humanity, is concerned that the residential action level for lead in Butte that triggers cleanup is too high. May 23, 2019.
Nora Saks / Montana Public Radio

On Thursday night, Ian Magruder stood up in front of a crowd of about 100 at the Montana Tech Library Auditorium in Butte and addressed a panel of officials from the state and federal environmental protection agencies.

"I stood here in this room 15 years ago and railed against the EPA for their proposed plan at the time. And I thought it was a joke. Today I feel differently."

Members of the grassroots Restore Our Creek Coalition express concerns about their vision for a reconstructed Upper Silver Bow Creek to EPA officials at a meeting at the Butte Chamber of Commerce. At left is Montana Standard Reporter Susan Dunlap
Nora Saks

EPA officials met with some of Butte’s most vocal Superfund cleanup activists Tuesday to update them on the activists’ goal to restore Upper Silver Bow Creek.

For years, members of the local Restore Our Creek Coalition have been saying that Butte’s Superfund cleanup won’t be complete unless Upper Silver Bow Creek is re-constructed as a free-flowing stream where kids can fish and play, after nearly a century of serving as a wastewater ditch.

The panel at an April 23, 2019 public meeting on the "proposed plan" included officials from the Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Quality.
Nora Saks / Montana Public Radio

On Tuesday night, Butte residents got their first chance to respond to the changes EPA wants to make to the Superfund cleanup plan for the Butte Hill and Silver Bow Creek corridor. 

Martin Hestmark with the EPA’s regional office, explained to the 80 or so people at the public meeting at Montana Tech that the crux of the plan focuses on managing stormwater. It runs off the steep Butte Hill and contaminates Silver Bow and Blacktail Creeks in the valley below.

Retired hydrogeologist Joe Griffin stands next to a groundwater sampling well in Butte's Upper Silver Bow Creek corridor. January 24, 2018.
Nora Saks / Montana Public Radio

Last week the Environmental Protection Agency released the changes they want to make to the 2006 legal Record of Decision (ROD) which governs the Superfund cleanup of the Butte Hill and Upper Silver Bow Creek corridor.

Uptown Butte, MT.
Mike Albans / Montana Public Radio

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.

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