Former Asarco-owned residences in East Helena are being demolished as part of the ongoing cleanup effort.
As soon as NorthWestern Energy cuts all power to the homes on South Montana Avenue, adjacent to the former lead smelter site, all but one of the eight structures there will be torn down, according to Cindy Brooks, who heads the Montana Environmental Custodial Trust. The trust was created to hold on to Asarco’s Montana properties until they’re sold under a settlement agreement with the bankrupt company.
The former Asarco manager’s house, built in 1888, may be eligible for listing on the National Registry of Historic Places and might be restored as some type of museum or community center.
“The manager’s house is a jewel … even though it’s not necessarily well maintained,” Brooks said. “But with some (non-trust) funding we hope it will be renovated and restored to become a real landmark for East Helena and the mining history that goes with it.
“That whole swath of land is slated for being transformed into an enhanced riparian zone and habitat, and for public open space. What we’d like is for the manager’s house to be a gateway to the larger community area.”
She said the other homes, which were built around the 1960s, don’t have much historical value and aren’t in very good shape. Asarco owned the homes and the land on which they were built, then rented them to people, often employees. Most of the homes are near or adjacent to the slag pile.
The smelter closed in 2001, and many of the on-site buildings already were razed.
Structures on the former Dartman and Vollmer ranches, which Asarco purchased after disputes over lead contamination, also will be destroyed. The Dartman property is between Wylie Drive and Montana Avenue, near the northern edge of East Helena; the Vollmer property is on the south side of Highway 12, directly across from East Helena.
Betsy Burns is the EPA project manager for the Asarco site, which is being cleaned up under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. She said any asbestos has already been removed from the properties, and many of the reusable interior items have been sent to the Florence Crittenton Foundation and the Helena Area Habitat for Humanity.
“We received some appliances and fixtures, windows, interior doors, a few cabinets and some sinks — things that weren’t extremely porous and that they could clean before giving them to us to use,” said Mel Bruhn, the Habitat for Humanity’s executive director. “We’re very happy to get the items.”
Burns added that the homes generally will be demolished and their materials put in the local landfill.
“We’ll have dust suppression equipment when they knock the buildings down,” she said.
Helena Sand and Gravel is doing the demolition work for about $60,000.
The demolition concludes a 10-month effort that involved assisting former Asarco tenants who were relocated to alternative homes; performing cultural resource surveys, studies and recordings under the National Historic Preservation Act; and cleaning, securing and abating asbestos in the residences.
The EPA is forming a small group of interested parties to explore options for funding and renovating the old manager’s house. Paul Putz, historic preservation officer for Lewis and Clark County and a member of EPA’s working group, believes that a museum would offer “an exciting and long overdue opportunity to create a permanent home for historic materials and exhibits.”
The Montana Environmental Custodial Trust assumed ownership, management, clean-up and redevelopment responsibility for the Asarco sites in Montana, including the former East Helena smelter, when the Asarco bankruptcy was settled in December 2009. The Montana Trust is performing the cleanup of the East Helena site under direction and oversight of EPA in consultation with the state Department of Environmental Quality.
Other trust sites in Montana include the former Asarco mines in Lincoln, Philipsburg and Superior. The ultimate plan involves restoring the lands to a position where they can be sold and used for other purposes. Money from the sale would be returned to the trust and used for additional remediation or treatment of underground arsenic and selenium plumes in East Helena.
The United States and the state of Montana are the beneficiaries of the trust.
Reporter Eve Byron: 447-4076 or firstname.lastname@example.org