At a public meeting four years ago, Montana Tech professor Dr. John Ray questioned the Environmental Protection Agency’s transparency in the Superfund process.
But following a cordial virtual meeting on Monday, where the Montana EPA updated the Butte-area community on projects related to the Butte Priority Soils Operational Unit Consent Decree, its tone had changed.
“I think this meeting is flesh and bone,” Ray said, adding that while the consent decree is now law, the outreach continues. “This degree of transparency and involvement is unprecedented nationally.”
Although large enclosures are down, the next phase represents improved transparency, said Nikia Greene, EPA repair program manager.
“We can have a dialogue and answer questions and be transparent – you know, a lot of things that we couldn’t do under the confidentiality order,” he said.
In addition to meetings and other public resources, Greene said Atlantic Richfield is currently developing a community engagement plan. Once the plan is ready, design plans will progress and the public will be able to find official answers to hot topics, such as the location of the new contaminated mine waste repository.
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At Monday’s meeting, Butte-Silver Bow general manager Dave Palmer asked about the status of the repository selection process.
Josh Bryson, the project manager of operations for ARCO, said the West Side Soils sites, the Butte mine waste dump and the Montana Resources mine are all under informal consideration.
“There are a lot of things to evaluate to determine the appropriate location, the most feasible location and the safest location for these materials,” he said.
Timber Butte has previously been considered for a disposal site, but this option was proposed after strong resistance from the Timber Butte community in March.
Another hot topic was raised by local journalist Nora Saks. Saks asked why Silver Lake water is added to Berkeley pit discharge water.
In his response, Greene confirmed that Atlantic Richfield and Montana Resources are currently pursuing an expansion of Silver Lake’s limited water use for this purpose, a pilot program which has been approved by the Department of Water Quality. environment and the Montana EPA a year ago.
The EPA is awaiting details on why the companies are seeking to continue using Silver Lake water to increase flow, and based on those details, the EPA will decide whether to grant the extension, Greene said.
Dana Barnicoat, EPA Region 8 Community Involvement Coordinator, said the EPA expects those details by next week.
Silver Lake has a history forged in the community. Sister Mary Jo McDonald led a class action group that sued Dennis Washington over Silver Lake water in 1990. In 1996, the group prevailed and the people of Butte took ownership of the system. Today, McDonald’s strongly opposes the use of Silver Lake water to increase flow. McDonald said in an interview that the water belongs to the citizens of Butte.
“It’s what Butte is entitled to, and Butte should hang on to it,” she said of Silver Lake water, adding that the industry has been increasing the use of this water at the over time. “They always used more than they should have.”
The EPA has announced that a draft five-year review for the Silver Bow Creek and Butte area is being reviewed and the final version is expected to be released by March of next year. Greene said the EPA’s third-party contractors are still investigating solutions for some of the operational units, so the review will not represent a finished plan for protective measures.
The consent decree went into effect on November 16, as did the BPSOU’s unilateral administrative order (UAO). The UAO amendment expands the Residential Metal Reduction Program (RMAP), responsible for dusting attics, to include most of Butte-Silver Bow County. Medical monitoring is also included, and a draft of the plan is available on the Butte Citizens Environmental Technical Committee (CETC) website.
CETC is a primary resource for community members during the remediation process. CETC, for example, submitted community feedback on the Buffalo Gulch area to the EPA. The EPA in turn submitted the comments to Atlantic Richfield and Butte-Silver Bow. It was announced at the meeting that the Buffalo Gulch and Grove Gulch areas are in the 30% design stage.
Greene expects the West Side soil remediation survey report to be written by the end of the year and finalized by the spring, when community feedback will be taken. taken into account as the agency moves through a feasibility study, proposed plan, and record of decision – one of many Superfund processes.
But, prompted by community member Jim Ford, Greene said the West Side Soils area – with its more than 500 mining dumps – is not only difficult to remediate due to rain surges, but the very limits of the area remain to be defined.
“You know, I’m not sure West Side Soils ever had a defined boundary,” Greene said.
Later in the meeting, EPA toxicologist Charles Partridge addressed the issue of limits.
“We look at all exposure scenarios. We include everything — residential, recreational and agricultural. For the moment, it does not bother us, ”he said. “There may come a time, once we have received all the data, where we can refine and perhaps make definitive limits.”
In addition to highlighting the difficulty of establishing a boundary, the discussion bore witness to community discourse. Ray pushed the point originally raised by Ford. It took three tries, but EPA Attorney General D. Henry Elsen finally answered the question of whether a boundary would be set.
“Eventually, it will have to be done. The record of the decision will have to be specific about the areas where we require action, and that will end up defining the boundaries,” he said.
Partridge said on cleanup projects across the country, virtual community meetings typically see representation of around 10 people. At Butte’s first community meeting since the consent decree took effect, more than 80 people attended virtually.
“Butte sets the standard for community engagement,” Partridge said.
EPA asked community members to feel free to submit agenda items prior to future meetings.
Ray has been working with the EPA and other community members to develop an environmental justice action plan, which will be another resource for the community to make sure things are done right, Barnicoat said. . The plan is in its final stages and will be shared with the public and stakeholders for comment over the next two weeks.