DOJ: News Release

McGrath: Court Approves Clark Fork River Basin Consent Decree

HELENA – Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath said Tuesday that a federal court has approved the settlement of the final natural resource damage claims for sites in the Clark Fork River Basin and the environmental remediation claims for the Upper Clark Fork River.

The settlement was announced in February, and it was subject to a 60-day public-comment period. U.S. District Court Judge Sam Haddon signed the agreement Thursday and it was entered by the court Monday.

“We’ve waited for this day for a long, long time,” McGrath said. “The state should start receiving payments from Arco within 90 days, and the cleanup and restoration projects in Butte and Anaconda and along the Clark Fork River can begin.”

The approval of the agreement is the latest step in a case of 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 natural resource damage 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.

The total settlement being paid to the state is $168 million. The state will get $95.5 million to clean up the Clark Fork River site with EPA oversight, and $72.5 restore the three sites. The state’s restoration share is broken down:

  • $28.1 million 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 has released preliminary proposals for restoration of the three sites.

McGrath said that now the litigation is finished, state and federal agencies and Montana citizens can move forward and work together to make the most of the settlement funds.

“In Butte, for example, the community must develop a plan for how to best use these dollars. There are some good ideas out there,” he said. “Ultimately, the final decision is up to the trustee, Gov. Schweitzer.”

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