Officials mark end of Milltown Superfund cleanup project

2012-09-24T20:15:00Z 2012-09-24T21:59:00Z Officials mark end of Milltown Superfund cleanup projectBy ROB CHANEY of the Missoulian
September 24, 2012 8:15 pm  • 

BONNER – The “big yellow iron” phase at the confluence of the Clark Fork and Blackfoot rivers has ended.

Any earthmoving left to do where the former Milltown Dam once restrained millions of tons of toxic sediment was formally handed over to Mother Nature on Monday morning, as a crowd of county, state, tribal and federal officials celebrated their cooperation and completion of the Milltown Superfund cleanup project.

“I know it’s sometimes fashionable to rail against government,” Missoula County Commissioner Bill Carey told the gathering atop the Milltown State Park Overlook. “But I’d like them to come out here and see what government and the private sector can do together. Instead of a poisoned, pike-infested pond, we’ve got free-flowing rivers and clean drinking water and a public park.”

The federal Superfund project cleaning up Milltown Reservoir’s 300,000 tons of heavy metal mine waste resulted in 350,000 hours of work for Missoula-based Envirocon and its related contractors, state Attorney General Steve Bullock said.

“Today, the area’s almost unrecognizable,” Bullock said. “But people don’t realize there were no blueprints of something similar to this to draw from, to reconnect a river confluence or remove a contamination pile of this size.”

Monday’s gathering marked the official finish of federal remediation and state restoration at the site. While some work remains to develop a state park and finish nurturing new floodplain vegetation along 17,000 feet of riverbed, the big dig is over.

Bullock credited former attorney general and now state Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike McGrath with spearheading the legal settlement with mining company Atlantic Richfield Co. that provided $115 million to rehabilitate the reservoir.

The project started as a drinking water crisis back in the 1980s, when county health officers found arsenic in Milltown’s drinking water. The contamination traced back to waste from mines and smelters in Butte and Anaconda that washed down the Clark Fork in a massive 1908 flood. Milltown Dam trapped most of the waste in its reservoir.

It wasn’t until 2006 that workers began rerouting the rivers to drain the reservoir and remove the dam. Milltown Dam was breeched in 2008. The next four years saw almost constant earthwork activity – the “big yellow iron” bulldozers and graders that scraped away the tainted sediments, dug new river channels and recontoured the floodplain.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Montana Office Director Julie DalSoglio recalled how she was 29 years old when she attended her first advisory group meeting on the Milltown site. That was in 1989.

“This was a community that was so committed to a vision and to working together,” DalSoglio said. The drinking water that once measured 500 parts per million of arsenic in some Bonner wells has improved to 150 ppm, and some wells are now below the public health threshold of 10 ppm.

Salish Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee director Tony Incashola reminded the audience of the oldest name for the place: Nayccstm, the Place of the Big Bull Trout.

“It means a lot to me and the tribes to be restoring this area,” Incashola said. “It’s good that people see the right thing happening. We always think that 80 or 90 years is a long time. It’s not. You’ve got to prepare for children and grandchildren. This is a great gift for them and those yet to come.”

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at

(6) Comments

  1. sportscaster
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    sportscaster - September 25, 2012 5:35 pm
    It would have been nice if The Missoulian had explained Steve Bullock's "official" role in being at this "celebration." Did he have some official capacity, or did Gov. Lame Duck see it as an opportunity to give the guy he hopes will succeed him after November a little free publicity and exposure. Obviously if Schweitzer was still going to be in office or was running for re-election or another office he wouldn't have passed the publicity torch to someone else. He would have taken it for himself. Everybody knows that, for the past eight years, the most dangerous place in Montana was between Brian Schweitzer and any television camera.
  2. hellgatenights
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    hellgatenights - September 25, 2012 2:43 pm
    Gadfly Chief Bullock is all to happy to toss around accolades and empty rhetoric (along with the indians)......but he does not mention that Atlantic Richfield did not cause the pollution, they simply bought an old mine. Investors from the east, including Harvard and Columbia Universities, financed the dirty mining.

    Nor did Bullock mention that it was lawsuits like the infamous ARCO settlement that sent big business (And thousands of jobs) running for Chile. Not many local people benefited at all from the construction.....prove me wrong.

    Once the EPA had their day in court, Arco was crushed, and any remaining big business ventures in Montana hit the road.

    Tell me.......are you better off now? Does the barren eye sore at the confluence make you feel as good as having a job that pays $60k a year? No.......I didn't think so.
  3. Benjamin Irey
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    Benjamin Irey - September 25, 2012 9:26 am
    Does this mean the confluence is now open for floaters?
  4. Pistol
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    Pistol - September 25, 2012 8:47 am
    Before these people break an arm patting themselves on the back they might wait a while. What if they didn't get all the toxic waste, and we have a major ice jam, like what happened in the 1990s come down the river? It pushes toxics not recovered into the Clark Fork, and it comtaminates the drinking the water in Missoula? I think they should have cleaned up the area, and leave the dam in place. Check the water quality behind the dam every year for ten years. If the water quality remains good then remove the dam.
  5. jima
    Report Abuse
    jima - September 25, 2012 7:07 am
    “This was a community that was so committed to a vision and to working together,” DalSoglio said. The drinking water that once measured 500 parts per million of arsenic in some Bonner wells has improved to 150 ppm, and some wells are now below the public health threshold of 10 ppm. _______ Is there any statistical data related to this "clean-up project" that hasn't been skewed to justify the massive cost? Did enviroCON get paid twice or three times for this 'backyard boondoggle'.This was a project built on lies and distortions, and is now being 'repackaged' to sell more boondoggle "clean-up projects"...
  6. Alan Johnson
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    Alan Johnson - September 24, 2012 9:38 pm
    This has been a great project. It's an example of what can be. I would like to see some of this applied to the series of falls around Great Falls. The old plants still there can be taken from the grid without any great loss. I dream of seeing the Great Falls almost as Meriwether Lewis first saw it, without Ryan Dam on top of it. The same for Rainbow, horseshoe etc.
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