State Solicits Comments on Restoration Funding Proposal
HELENA – The state is seeking public comment on a restoration funding proposal on how to spend money recovered in a natural resource damage settlement with Arco on restoration projects in the Upper Clark Fork River Basin (UCFRB). The proposal, Draft Conceptual Framework for an UCFRB Restoration Priorities Road Map, will be the subject of a 60-day public comment period ending on August 15. There will also be public hearings in four UCFRB communities this month.
The state’s 1983 lawsuit against Arco to recover damages for injuries to natural resources caused by releases of hazardous substances from historic mining and smelting operations in the Butte and Anaconda areas has been resolved through two settlements completed in 1999 and 2005. A third settlement proposed in early 2008 now awaits court approval. Combined, these settlements will result in a total payment to the state of more than $220 million in damages to be used for the restoration of natural resources in the UCFRB.
The UCFRB Restoration Fund was created with the damages recovered in the 1999 settlement, and the draft plan now out for public comment proposes a new spending structure for it. Damages from the other two settlements are specifically earmarked for restoration at the Milltown, Clark Fork River, Smelter Hill Upland and Butte Area One sites.
“This draft proposal involves a major change in the current funding framework, from an annual grants 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,” said Carol Fox, Restoration Program Chief with the Natural Resource Damage Program (NRDP). “The spending will be prioritized on restoration projects that will improve the natural resources in the UCFRB and enhance the public’s use and enjoyment of those resources.”
The plan calls for uncommitted funds — estimated to be over $100 million — to be divided into three categories, with 60 percent for restoration of priority resources, 35 percent for a grants program and 5 percent for contingency spending. The priority resources money would be further allocated based on the lawsuit claim amounts, with 36 percent set aside for groundwater projects, 39 percent for fishery projects and 25 percent to be dedicated for wildlife projects. Butte-Silver Bow and Anaconda-Deer Lodge counties would implement the groundwater projects and the state would implement fish and wildlife projects.
In late May, the Governor’s Trustee Restoration Council directed the NRDP to solicit public comment on the draft proposal. Before that, the draft proposal was the subject of substantial deliberations and public comment at several meetings of the Governor’s UCFRB Advisory Council, and the council also recommended that the draft proposal go out for public comment.
Both of these groups will consider the public comments prior to making final recommendations to Gov. Schweitzer on a new restoration funding framework. The governor will make a final decision by the end of the year.
Written comments may be sent to the Natural Resource Damage Program, P.O. Box 201425, Helena, MT 59620-1425, faxed to (406) 444-0236 or e-mailed to email@example.com. The deadline for comments is Friday, August 15. The public may also comment at public hearings during June. An executive summary is available from NRDP.
|City||Date & Time||Location|
|Butte||Thursday, June 19th, 6:30 p.m.||Butte War Bonnet Inn, 2100 Cornell|
|Missoula/Bonner||Tuesday, June 24th 6:30 p.m.||Bonner Middle School Community Room|
|Anaconda||Thursday, June 26th 6:00 p.m.||Hearst Free Library (2nd Floor) 401 Main|
|Deer Lodge||Monday, June 30th 6:30 p.m.||Deer Lodge Community Center, 146 Cottonwood|
The NRDP staff is available to meet with interested parties about this proposal upon request.
“We want to give ample opportunity for the public to be informed about and weigh in on this proposed framework for how best to allocate settlement funds and accomplish restoration in the UCFRB,” Fox said.