Montana Public Radio

Superfund

The core of the Superfund deal itself, and how it proposes to solve Butte’s lingering environmental problems forever, is really important and complicated, both legally and technically. And no wonder. Three levels of government — the county, state and feds — plus a former oil company, all had to settle their differences, and agree on how to clean up, once and for all, the rest of the environmental bust left behind by Butte’s historic copper mining boom.

So today, we’re gonna try to get our arms all the way around it. And take a closer look at what’s actually in this very big deal and whether the Mining City believes that after all of its sacrifices, this is a big enough reward. This is Episode 9: Butte Never Says Die.

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

A final deal signed by a federal judge this week outlining cleanup of century old mining waste in Butte means there’s going to be a flurry of work happening in the center of town. 

U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon on Wednesday gave his final stamp of approval to an overarching Superfund cleanup deal for the Butte Hill and its headwater streams below.

Silver Bow Creek in Butte, Montana.
Nora Saks / Montana Public Radio

Butte’s $150 million cleanup deal is at last carved in legal stone after more than a decade of negotiations, and more than three decades on the Superfund National Priorities List.

On Wednesday, a federal district judge gave his final stamp of approval to an overarching Superfund settlement for the Butte Hill and its headwaters streams below.

Locations of surface water remedy components for the Butte Priority Soils Operable Unit.
Land Design Inc. - BPSOU Record of Decision

Butte’s pending $150 million Superfund cleanup deal is now one step away from being legally set in stone.

The U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday filed a motion to enter the Superfund deal, or consent decree, with the Federal District Court of Montana, recommending the court approve it.

A federal agency proposed granting superfund status to an area of Billings, Mont. contaminated by dry cleaning chemicals.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Sept. 1 announced it’ll recommend a roughly 855 acre area in Billings be added to the National Priorities List as a federal Superfund site.

Officials say the plume could affect around 1,100 structures in central and downtown Billings.

EPA project manager Roger Hoogerheide says if the site wins federal superfund status the agency will conduct indoor air investigations.

Recently, we let the cat out of the bag and told you that Butte’s Superfund parties reached a very big deal; one that will clean up the Mining City forever. That sounds like good news, and I hope it is. But as someone who lives right in the heart of a Superfund megasite, lately I’ve been experiencing some cognitive dissonance.

During his reign, President Trump has radically transformed the Environmental Protection Agency. I haven’t known how to square the EPA's cheerleading on Superfund with the Trump Administration’s overall track record on the environment, and whether all the action we’re seeing in Butte, Montana is the Superfund exception, or the rule.

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

Butte’s proposed $150 million Superfund deal was filed with a federal district court, according to Monday’s announcement by the Environmental Protection Agency. It's a big leap forward for the mine waste cleanup in the works for the Mining City. 

The historic Silver Bow Creek channel in Butte was an industrial sewer for over a century, and now conveys storm water seasonally. February 15, 2018.
Nora Saks / Montana Public Radio

Butte’s local government approved an overarching $150 million Superfund cleanup deal on Wednesday. This marks a new chapter for the Mining City, which has been on the nation’s list of most toxic sites since the 1980s.

Mark Mariano, bird protection specialist for the Berkeley Pit, holds disinfectant wipes in his bird shack overlooking the pit.
Nora Saks / Montana Public Radio

In Butte, the epicenter of one of the most toxic industrial sites in the country, essential work during the COVID-19 outbreak can mean protecting humans, and the environment, from historic pollution. Nora Saks with Montana Public Radio’s Richest Hill podcast has this look at Superfund during the pandemic.

Libby Montana.
Nora Saks / Montana Public Radio

The state of Montana was slated to take control of part of the Libby Asbestos Superfund site from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on April 1. But because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, that transfer is being postponed indefinitely.

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