Schweitzer, Bullock Announce Signing of Agreement on ASARCO Hazardous Waste Sites
$138 million will fund cleanup of smelting site in East Helena
HELENA – Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer and Attorney General Steve Bullock announced on Monday that a final agreement has been reached and signed by the parties to provide $138 million to clean up industrial and mining sites owned by ASARCO, LLC.
The agreement, reached between the state and federal government and ASARCO, LLC, and filed in bankruptcy court for approval, provides funding for cleanup of groundwater and soils contaminated by decades of lead smelting in East Helena. The agreement will also provide funding for the cleanup of additional ASARCO-owned property at the Upper Blackfoot River, Iron Mountain and the Black Pine/Combination Mining District sites.
“This means clean water for East Helena and high-paying jobs for Montanans,” Governor Schweitzer said. “This is another example of our restoration economy and is money that will stay in the region and roll over on Main Street five or six times.”
The $138 million cleanup will be directed by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, the Montana Department of Justice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Forest Service. In addition, the state will receive a $5 million unsecured claim for natural resource damages occurring in East Helena and 232 acres of land to be used for public recreation and wildlife habitat.
“The families and businesses in East Helena deserve clean soil and water, and this agreement provides the money to make that happen,” Bullock said. “I am proud of the state employees who laid the groundwork to make sure the contamination at East Helena will be removed — and on ASARCO’s dime rather than out of the taxpayer’s pocket.”
The announcement came after ASARCO described to the bankruptcy court in Texas its new proposed reorganization plan. The settlement is part of that plan. Under the proposed plan, Sterlite, a subsidiary of an Indian mining company, will buy ASARCO’s operating properties in Arizona and Texas for an estimated $1.3 billion. With those funds and additional cash on hand, ASARCO will pay creditors in the bankruptcy, including environmental claims, across the country. It is expected that the $138 million will be paid in full because it is for the cleanup of ASARCO-owned property. Other creditors may not be paid in full but could receive about 65 cents on the dollar.
The deal announced by Schweitzer and Bullock on Monday is in addition to earlier settlements with ASARCO. In 2008, the parties announced a $37 million settlement to remove the aging Mike Horse Dam on the Upper Blackfoot River and restore contaminated streams near the dam, and an $8.1 million settlement to fund the cleanup of the Barker Hughesville mine site in Judith Basin and Cascade Counties. There was also a $2.2 million state settlement for portions of the Iron Mountain site not owned by ASARCO. This year the court also approved a $13.3 million settlement to clean up yards and other contaminated properties in East Helena that are not owned by ASARCO.
The Black Pine/Combination site is near Philipsburg and the Iron Mountain site is near Superior.