Council Seeks Public Input on Restoration Funding Proposal
HELENA – The Montana Natural Resource Damage Program, in cooperation with the Governor’s Upper Clark Fork River Basin (UCFRB) Remediation and Restoration Advisory Council, is soliciting public input on its Draft Conceptual Framework for a UCFRB Restoration Priorities Road Map. The document is a proposed plan on how the UCFRB Restoration Fund should be allocated following court approval of settlement of the UCFRB natural resource damage litigation.
In February of this year, the state lodged a proposed consent decree with the U.S. District Court. If the court approves the consent decree, the decree will resolve the state’s remaining natural resource damage lawsuit against ARCO for a payment to the state of an additional $72.5 million in damages. Those damages would be specifically allocated for restoration of the Clark Fork River, Butte Area One, and Smelter Hill Upland injured areas.
Funding for restoration projects in the UCFRB presently comes from the partial settlement of the lawsuit brought by the state in 1983 to recover damages for injuries to natural resources caused by decades of mining and smelting in the Butte-Anaconda area. The state sued the Atlantic Richfield Co. (ARCO) in 1983 and settled several portions of the lawsuit in 1999, receiving $230 million, including interest. About $130 million of that was placed in the UCFRB Restoration Fund for restoration projects in the Basin. Through December 2007, the Governor has approved 75 restoration projects for a total of $66.2 million, and the Restoration Fund has grown to $164 million.
“This new proposal involves a major change in the current framework of how the UCFRB Restoration Fund created by the 1999 settlement is spent once the state’s natural resource damage litigation is concluded,” said Carol Fox, Restoration Program Chief with the Natural Resource Damage Program (NRDP).
“We’d move from a grant process that operates on interest proceeds to one in which the majority of the UCFRB Restoration Fund would be spent over an estimated 15 to 20 year period,” she said. “The spending will be prioritized on restoration projects that will improve the natural resources in the Basin and the public’s use and enjoyment of those resources,” she said
The proposal will be the subject of a public review process that concludes with a decision by the governor on whether or not to move forward with the proposal.
“We introduced the staff’s proposal to the Advisory Council in February and provided more details in March. Now the Council wants to hear the public’s view on the proposal at its April meeting before making its draft recommendation to the governor,” Fox said.
The Advisory Council will meet at 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday, April 8 at the Deer Lodge Community Center, 146 Cottonwood Street. The proposal is available at upon request from the NRDP at (406) 444-0205. Written comments can be emailed to email@example.com or mailed to NRDP, PO Box 201425 Helena, MT 59620.
Larry Curran, Chairman of the Advisory Council, encouraged members of the public to offer their input to the Council either at or before the Council’s April meeting.
“To this point, the Council has mainly been educated by staff about this proposal. Now is a critical time to hear from anyone interested in the proposal to express what they like or don’t like about the proposal before we make our preliminary decision on it,” Curran said.
After the Advisory Council decides on its preliminary recommendation, the Governor’s Trustee Restoration Council will meet to consider the input of the staff, Advisory Council and the public on the draft proposal that would then be the subject of a 30-day formal public comment period and a public hearing. Both councils will consider this additional public input in making final recommendations to the governor.
“We hope to have a decision on new funding program by the end of the year,” Fox said.