The 20-year roadmap for spending about $117 million for environmental restoration in the Upper Clark Fork Basin was approved by the Trustee Restoration Council in Helena Monday and now awaits the signature of Gov. Brian Schweitzer.
About $65.5 million will go toward projects to improve aquatic and terrestrial resources, and related public recreational services in Anaconda, Elliston, Drummond and Missoula, with another $40 million slated for groundwater restoration projects in the Butte and Anaconda areas. The council set aside $11 million as a contingency for unexpected aquatic or terrestrial projects.
The governor already has signed off on the Butte and Anaconda work.
“We have a plan that sets forth how we will operate for the next 20 years,” said Bill Rossbach, chairman of the Upper Clark Fork River Basin Remediation and Restoration Advisory Council. “I never thought that would happen.”
The money is some of about $304 million from three lawsuits between the state and Atlantic Richfield Co. ARCO purchased the Butte mine holdings in 1979 from the Anaconda Co., which had mined and processed minerals in the Upper Clark Fork River Basin for decades, releasing hazardous substances that extensively damaged natural resources. Since ARCO ended up with the mines, it became the responsible party for the mine cleanup.
While the state Natural Resource Damage Program (NRDP) has distributed millions in settlement funds to a wide range of projects, about a year ago, a long-term plan was created that called for prioritizing the work with the money from the 1999 lawsuit. After dozens
of meetings with governmental,
conservation and other organizations, the to-do list was created.
The aquatic projects total $40 million, which includes $20.5 million to maintain water flows and $20.4 million for restoration efforts in 13 watersheds, including the Little Blackfoot River, Silver Bow Creek and Mill Creek, as well as on the Clark Fork River itself.
Another $18 million will be done on landscape projects within the watersheds and $6.5 million is set aside for recreational projects along various streams, for a total of $65.5 million.
“We have been on a long ride and gotten ourselves to a good place,” said Carol Fox, the restoration program chief for NRDP. “… There were some detours, some stalls, but we’re in a good place.”
She noted that some people wanted to see more work done on the main stem of the Clark Fork before restoring the up-river terrestrial streams, but the council believes they’ve struck a balance with the final project. They add that some work — like the controversial proposal to use water in Silver Lake for enhancing flows in the basin — may or may not come to fruition, so they’ve built flexibility into the priority ranking.
Rossbach called the priority list a “rocket docket” that included everything from ideas sketched out on the back of a napkin to fully engineered plans.
“We’re not approving final plans, like how much money goes to this project, but we are able to put together a very strong plan,” he noted.
He added, for example, the Silver Lake proposal needs evaluation as to whether there’s an adequate water right available and how much it might cost to acquire those rights. They also need to check out what, if any impacts might be felt on Georgetown Lake, which may be connected by groundwater to Silver Lake.
“But we all realize that is something that needs to be looked at and needs to be figured out in the next year,” Rossbach said.
Chris Brick with the Clark Fork Coalition praised the effort to list projects, noting that while everyone didn’t come away with everything they wanted, it was a good, fair process.
“It was methodical and intentional,” Brick said. “I believe this will be an excellent legacy for Gov. Schweitwer to leave for the Clark Fork Basin.”
On Monday the council also approved a $32 million expenditure for restoration action in Butte; that money came from a separate settlement fund with ARCO. It also needs the governor’s signature.
The Butte Area One Restoration plan involves work on the Silver Bow Creek corridor as it winds through the city and includes $10 million for the restoration of the corridor; $10 million for municipal water system improvement; $6 million for mine waste restoration and revegetation; and $4 million for stream restoration.
“I think the plan is a very good plan as far as considering all the options,” said Matt Vincent, who will become the Butte-Silver Bow chief executive in January. “The needs of restoration are balanced with the limited funding to get as much done as possible.”
Reporter Eve Byron: 447-4076 or firstname.lastname@example.org Follow Eve on Twitter @IR_EveByron