DOJ: News Release

State, Federal Officials: Settlement Brings Milltown Dam Removal One Step Closer

HELENA – State of Montana and federal officials on Tuesday announced a comprehensive agreement on the terms and costs of the cleanup of the Milltown Reservoir area. Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, Attorney General Mike McGrath, and representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the U.S. Department of Justice made the announcement in a press conference at the Milltown Dam.

Under a draft timeline for the agreement, the Milltown Dam and contaminated sediments will be removed, and the area around the site will be restored by December 2009. The consent decree filed in U.S. District Court Tuesday is the product of more than three years of negotiations between the EPA, the State of Montana, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, and defendants Atlantic Richfield Co. (Arco) and NorthWestern Energy.

“This project is historic. I thank everyone who has worked so hard to make this happen,” said Schweitzer. “The remedy here will address the contamination in the river and return the Milltown aquifer to drinking-water standards, and the state of Montana will restore this area and return these rivers to their natural condition. This project will restore world-class trout fishing to the Blackfoot and Clark Fork Rivers.”

“It’s an incredible accomplishment,” said McGrath. “One hundred years after this dam was built, we will have done the work necessary to clean up this area so future generations can safely enjoy it once again. That’s a legacy we can certainly be proud of.”

Removing the dam and reservoir represents a multi-year, $100-million construction project. Funding for the project will be paid primarily by Arco, with NorthWestern contributing $11.4 million. The state’s natural resource damage Restoration Fund will contribute $7.6 million to the project. In addition, as part of the settlement, the state will have the option to acquire approximately 500 acres of land and the water rights at the Milltown site now owned by NorthWestern. The company has already transferred a seven-mile stretch of riverfront along the Alberton Gorge to state ownership.

Arco has contracted with Envirocon, a Missoula-based company, to do the work under the supervision of the EPA and the state. The first phases of the project could begin as early as this fall.

McGrath noted that the restoration plan for the site, developed by the state in consultation with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, will exceed what is required under Superfund remedies. “This restoration will enhance the habitat and recreational values in the area of the reservoir and dam, and up and down both rivers,” he said.

In addition, coordinating the Superfund cleanup work with the state’s restoration activities will allow the most cost-effective implementation of both plans.

Built in 1907, the Milltown Dam blocks the Clark Fork and Blackfoot rivers where they meet, just east of Missoula. The reservoir contains 6.6 million cubic yards of metal-contaminated sediment that has flowed downstream from mining operations in Butte and Anaconda. The Clark Fork River Basin is one of the largest Superfund sites in the nation.

Under the agreement, Arco and NorthWestern will implement the remediation plan finalized by the EPA and the state in December 2004, as well as part of the restoration plan developed by the state for the site. These plans call for:

  • removing more than two million cubic yards of contaminated sediment, which will be transported to the Opportunity Ponds by rail;
  • removing the Milltown Dam, including the powerhouse, divider block and right abutment, and
  • restoring the site and river to a natural free-flowing condition.

Public Comment

Once the notice of the consent decree is published in the federal register, the settlement is subject to a 30-day public comment period. Two meetings on the settlement are open to the public. The EPA and state will discuss remedial and restoration aspects of the settlement at an August 16 meeting at the Bonner School Gym, beginning at 6:30 p.m. In addition, the state will provide more detailed information on the restoration plan at a second meeting to be held this fall.

The consent decree and other information related to the Milltown Site are available on the Internet at

During the public comment period, the consent decree will be available on the U.S. Department of Justice website. Comments should be sent to:

John C. Cruden
Deputy Assistant Attorney General
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice
P.O. Box 7611
Washington, DC 20044-7611
Refer to U.S. v. ARCO (D.Mt.), DOJ Case Number 90-11-2-430

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