EPA proposes enhancing cleanup plan in Anaconda but waiving standards

EPA proposes enhancing cleanup plan in Anaconda but waiving standards

Source: Montana Standard
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SUSAN DUNLAP

The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing a $17-million expansion and enhancement to Anaconda’s cleanup that would include waiving state water quality standards for Willow Creek and about seven tributaries flowing into upper Mill Creek, both south of Anaconda.

The creeks’ flows eventually wind up in the Clark Fork River.

The additional work, which comes with the $17-million price tag for Atlantic Richfield Co., would involve steep slope reclamation and other engineered features to create stormwater controls. Contaminated sediment is sending heavy metals into the waterways under consideration. While EPA is proposing that state water quality standards be waived, the creeks would still have to meet federal water quality standards.

Federal water quality standards are a little different from the state’s water quality standards, which are tougher to meet.

The changes are necessary because Willow Creek and the tributaries south of Cabbage Gulch flowing into upper Mill Creek have never met federal water quality standards during heavy rains and spring runoff, EPA project manager Charlie Coleman said Thursday.

The areas where rain and snowmelt create contaminated sediment running into the waterways are well vegetated. Coleman said that to try to meet Montana’s more conservative water quality standard, EPA would have to “rip up a mountain.”

The reason to implement a waiver now is because EPA is inching toward its legal settlement, called a “consent decree,” with Atlantic Richfield Co. over Anaconda’s Superfund site. As part of that preparation, the company needs to know what its liabilities will be, Coleman told The Montana Standard.

The soils carry heavy metals due to aerial emissions from around 100 years of smelting activity. The Washoe Smelter shut its doors for good in 1980.

Coleman held a meeting Thursday evening at the Metcalf Senior Center in Anaconda to allow the public the opportunity to comment on the proposed change to EPA’s cleanup plan for the Smelter City. The public has until Aug. 4 to voice opinions on EPA’s proposal. (See information box.)

Clark Fork Coalition representative Andrew Gorder called the waiver “inappropriate.” The nonprofit organization works to restore and sustain the Clark Fork River and its tributaries.

“Targeted removals (of contaminated soil) could be practical, and it’s unclear whether that was considered. Aquatic life in the Clark Fork suffers due to metals,” Gorder said.

Coleman said one alternative EPA looked into was building a treatment plant to treat the metals. But officials decided that hundreds of acres would be wiped out in the process of creating water storage areas for a treatment plant site.

Coleman said that during most of the year, the creeks meet federal water quality standards. The new expanded and enhanced cleanup on the hills that send runoff into Willow Creek and upper Mill Creek’s tributaries would reduce sediment from coming down the hillsides.

Former Department of Environmental Quality project manager Joe Griffin called this waiver “fairly conservatively done.” He also called it practical.

But Griffin offered some suggestions.

He encouraged EPA to consider testing fish to keep an eye on how the new cleanup plan would be affecting the aquatic life in the creeks. He also said that some of the tributaries in question are on wild land, and wildlife could come into play.

“It may be better to ensure that there are stable beaver populations,” Griffin said. “They do a better job of capturing sediment than any engineer.”