State Oks land buy for Belt Creek cleanup projectNews Type: State Source: Great Falls Tribune
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State OKs land buy for Belt Creek cleanup project
HELENA – The state Land Board on Monday approved letting Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality buy four pieces of land on which to build a water treatment plant to clean up acid mine contamination in Belt.
The four parcels now owned by the Montana Department of Transportation were appraised at $145,425, however the total amount for the purchase is expected to be $1, officials said, because of the funds expected to be needed to cleanup the site.
The land board — made up of the governor, secretary of state, attorney general, state auditor and state superintendent of public instruction — approved the land purchase 5-0.
Autumn Coleman, DEQ’s abandoned mine lands project manager, said Belt Creek is polluted with heavy metal and now has orange water running through it.
The land purchase, where a water treatment plant would be located, would restore Belt Creek to beneficial use, she said.
According to documents provided by the DEQ, the abandoned mines from the Anaconda Belt Mine discharge 250-acre feet of contaminated water to Belt Creek every year and 700 pounds or iron and 500 pounds of aluminum discharged daily.
The site of the new plant, expected to start construction in 2018 and be completed by 2019, would be on a previous abandoned mine lands site known as the Coke Oven Flats, or Belt Cinder Pit.
Officials said the project is now over its $6-$9 million budget. Plans are to establish a $24 million trust fund to provide the $500,000 needed annually to operate and maintain the plant and need $500,000 a year operating budget.
Coal mines operated around Belt starting in 1877 with a mine operated by John Castner. In 1893, it was purchased by Anaconda Copper Mining and production peaked in the late 18902 with more than 1,200 employees. The mine closed in 1924 but smaller mines on Belt’s east side operated as late as 1963. The town now has about 600 residents.
As a result, coal ash is now leaching iron and aluminum into Belt Creek.
Coleman said funds from coal mining would be used for the cleanup.
Attorney General Tim Fox spoke in favor of moving forward.
“This is an important project,” he said. “As long as we have coal mining in Montana, we will have the ability to have legacy sites cleaned up.”
Belt Mayor Beauford “B.J.” Wells said residents would be happy to hear progress is being made.
He said the chemicals have made the creek turn orange during certain times of year.
“It used to be a great fishing stream,” Wells said. “It’s certainly an eyesore running through town.”
He said residents get their water from two deep wells in the Madison Aquifer unaffected by the stream. “So we have a good water supply. and it’s some of the best of the state,” he said.
Timber, surface and mineral resources are managed for the benefit of public schools and the other endowed institutions in Montana under the direction of the state land board. State trust lands are managed by the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation Trust Lands Management Division.