Mike Horse Dam Settlement Agreement Reached
HELENA – State and federal officials today announced a $37 million settlement of litigation with Atlantic Richfield Co. and ASARCO LLC to remove the aging Mike Horse Dam and the contaminated tailings behind it, and to clean up and restore the Upper Blackfoot River and Mining Complex.
Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, Attorney General Mike McGrath and Montana Department of Environmental Quality Remediation Division Administrator Sandi Olsen made the announcement at a press conference in Bonner at the Bonner Weigh Station, downstream of the dam. The settlement agreement was filed Friday with the bankruptcy court in Texas and lodged with the U.S. District Court in Helena.
“Removing this dam and repairing 100 years’ worth of damage is another example of the state’s restoration economy in action,” said Schweitzer. “Together with the Milltown Dam removal, we’re creating good-paying jobs and bringing the Blackfoot – and its native trout – back to life.”
In July 2007, the U.S. Forest Service released an action memorandum calling for the removal and disposal of the dam, mine tailings and wastes.
Under the terms of the settlement announced Friday, ASARCO and Arco will each pay the state $8 million. The state will also receive a $19.77 million allowed claim in the ASARCO bankruptcy, and the USFS will receive $1 million to oversee the state’s implementation of the project and a $230,000 allowed claim for past costs.
The dam was built across Beartrap Creek in 1941. In 1975 heavy rains caused a partial failure of the dam and high creek waters eroded contaminated tailings into Beartrap Creek and the Upper Blackfoot.
The Blackfoot was made famous by Norman Maclean’s story of family and fly fishing, A River Runs Through It. By the time director Robert Redford brought the tale to the screen in the early 1990′s, however, it had to be filmed somewhere else.
“It is ironic that the river that Maclean loved was too polluted to be the star of the film,” McGrath said. “It is critical that this impoundment will be removed before we have another incident like the one in 1975.
“This settlement will provide sufficient resources to do that.”
The dam sits in a floodplain at the headwaters of the Blackfoot River, and the tailings behind it will be moved to a repository on higher ground on ASARCO property. The project will also include cleanup of tailings along the Upper Blackfoot River, Beartrap Creek and Mike Horse Creek and the state will restore those streams to eventually bring back westslope cutthroat and bull trout.
“We can’t turn back the clock, but a skillfully engineered cleanup will restore the health of the river and fishery and return the area to a more pristine condition,” said DEQ Director Richard Opper. “It’s a safe bet that the native fish will appreciate the removal of 300,000 tons of mine waste from the area.”
Opper said another provision of the settlement calls for ASARCO to remain responsible for some repositories, water treatment and work on some parts of the site, including some mine adits. ASARCO continues to own those areas.
The settlement depends on final court approval of the agreement, which McGrath said may happen as soon as late June or July of this year.
The settlement agreement is subject to a 30-day public comment period following publication in the Federal Register. Publication will likely occur in about 10 days. Comments may be sent via e-mail or U.S. mail to: