State to Get $168 Million as Final Clark Fork River Basin Damage Claims Settled
BUTTE – State and federal officials on Thursday announced the settlement of the final natural resource damage claims for sites in the Clark Fork River Basin and the governments’ environmental remediation claims for the Upper Clark Fork River. Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, Attorney General Mike McGrath and representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Justice and National Parks Service made the announcement at a press conference at the Civic Center in Butte.
“This means high-paying jobs for a dozen or more years,” Schweitzer said. “This is $168 million for truck drivers and heavy equipment operators, this is money that will stay in the region and roll over on Main Street five or six times.
“It is just one more example where Montana is leading the nation in the new restoration economy.”
The settlement announced Thursday ends 25 years of litigation that began in 1983, when the state sued the Atlantic Richfield Company (Arco) for injuries to the natural resources in the Upper Clark Fork River Basin. The agreement resolves NRD claims for three sites:
- Smelter Hill Uplands – the upland mountains surrounding the city of Anaconda;
- Butte Area One – the alluvial groundwater aquifer and Silver Bow Creek in the city of Butte, and
- Upper Clark Fork River – the floodplain and river between Warm Springs Ponds and Milltown Dam.
“This was the final legal hurdle to fully remediating and restoring Silver Bow Creek and the Clark Fork River,” McGrath said. “It is a legacy we can all be very proud of.”
The total settlement is $168 million and the state will get $72.5 million to restore the three sites. Of the total:
- $28.1 million is allocated to Butte Area One;
- $13.2 million to the Smelter Hill Uplands, and
- $26.7 million to the Upper Clark Fork River.
In addition, $4.5 million is to reimburse the state for its past technical and litigation costs. And, as part of the settlement, the state is releasing restoration plans for the three sites.
In addition to the $72.5 million, Montana will receive about $95 million for the environmental remediation of the Upper Clark Fork River, which is called for under the EPA Record of Decision. This cleanup will happen over a 12-year period and be led by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality with EPA oversight.
The resolution of the last three NRD claims also frees up millions of dollars from a prior settlement of part of the state’s suit against Arco. In 1999, the state established the $130 million Upper Clark Fork River Basin Restoration Fund, and to date, interest from that fund has financed 74 grant projects worth about $55 million, while the fund balance has grown to about $160 million. With the settlement announced Thursday, the principal and the interest can be used to fund restoration projects to improve the basin’s fish and wildlife habitat and populations, public recreation opportunities and public drinking water supplies.
Once the notice of the consent decree is published in the federal register, the settlement and Montana’s restoration plans are subject to a 60-day public comment period. Dates, times and locations for public meetings are not yet finalized. During the public comment period, the consent decree and restoration plans will be available on the EPA and the Montana Department of Justice websites: www.epa.gov/region8/superfund/mt/milltowncfr/cfr/