"It Takes a Village..."

Reapplying the old adage, when it comes to meeting all of Butte’s Superfund needs, it certainly takes a village to do it properly. Last week I talked about the major progress made with the engineering and evaluation of the vegetated soil caps that cover up roughly 600 football-fields’ worth of historic mining and smelting-impacted areas on the Butte Hill. One reader questioned my description of the quality of these caps, which was fair enough albeit not entirely on point.  

There are definitely a few caps on the Butte Hill, constructed in the 1980s and early 90s that need a little more TLC from the Superfund maintenance crews than the rest. However, my emphasis was on the Butte Reclamation Evaluation System (or BRES, pronounced “breeze”), a top-notch monitoring tool that ensures every site – regardless of when they were constructed – meets the goals of protecting human health and our environment, namely stormwater runoff quality. If these older sites, which were constructed before Butte’s cap specifications were optimized, ever show signs of a problem, they are fixed and brought up to spec. Any newly reclaimed areas must adhere to the latest and most stringent specifications. The system works well and will continue to adapt and improve over time.

Who’s behind “the Superfund system”?

The BRES is just one of many facets to Butte’s Superfund system, which is very complex. I’ve previously discussed how the Clark Fork Watershed Education Program works with students and the Restoration Ecology program at Montana Tech to administer the BRES evaluation of sites each summer. Who else is involved and what other tasks are employed in keeping our Superfund cleanups adequate?

Let’s take a closer look. Superfund is a federal government program. The EPA is the lead agency, which also depends on professional consultants to assist in its duties. The State of Montana is also involved, through its Department of Environmental Quality. Also, because of the state’s lawsuit against Atlantic Richfield (ARCO), the Department of Justice’s Natural Resource Damage Program is involved in certain programs and projects as well. 

ARCO is the primary responsible party since it purchased the former Anaconda Company, and therefore is heavily involved in coordinating and paying for most aspects of Butte’s cleanup and long-term management. Like EPA, ARCO employs a variety of its own consultants and contractors to help meet its Superfund obligations. Burlington Northern railroad is a lesser responsible party on the Butte Hill site, while Montana Resources shares responsibility with ARCO on the Berkeley Pit cleanup. 

And last but certainly not least is our local government. Relative to the BRES, Butte-Silver Bow is responsible for the operations and maintenance of reclaimed areas and stormwater facilities. The local government also operates the successful Residential Metals Abatement Program (RMAP), which monitors child blood lead levels, as well as samples and cleans up Butte’s yards, homes and attics that may be contaminated with lead, arsenic and mercury. There are also the Water Quality District, the GIS/Data Management system and the administrators who are involved as well, including the Chief Executive and County Attorney. 

All told there are 28 employees who work all the time or a significant portion of their time for Butte-Silver Bow on Butte’s Superfund tasks and issues. That’s a lot, right? In fact, there are very few local government services and departments that DON’T interact with Superfund. Ranging from Parks & Recreation to Community Development, from Metro Sewer to the Finance & Budget office to the Council of Commissioners — all of them intersect with Superfund at some point. It’s worth emphasizing that these other departments and individuals are NOT included in the count above, yet they all count in the way Superfund works for Butte.  

And there are citizens too. The Superfund Advisory and Redevelopment Trust Authority – SARTA as it’s referred to – is a group of eleven appointed citizens who advise on Butte’s Superfund issues, as well as oversee funds on a variety of Superfund projects. The Butte Natural Resource Damage Council is a citizen-appointed body of seven that is tasked with oversight of our community’s restoration projects and programs. There is also CTEC, PITWATCH, Watershed Restoration Coalition, Mile High Conservation District, Greeley Neighborhood Community Coalition and the Restore our Creek Coalition. I may have missed some too.

All in all, it’s truly safe to say, “it takes a village,” when talking about the management of part of the nation’s largest Superfund site.

PHOTO CUTLINE: Here In “Butte America” we live with Superfund everyday, but it does not define us. This photo of the Field of Honor from 2015 is atop the reclaimed cap on the Belmont Mine. Not only does the cap serve a new purpose, but the Belmont engine room serves as Butte’s Senior Citizen Center, where hundreds of the Mining City’s seniors gather each week. In fact, the grassy amphitheater in front of the Original stage where thousands of visitors danced and enjoyed the music of the Montana Folk Festival last week is another example of a Superfund cap. For the most part in Butte, we’ve got Superfund well covered!