Superfund cleanup ends at site of Milltown Dam

Bonner, Montana (AP) October 2012

Federal, state, Missoula County and tribal officials marked the end of cleanup and restoration work at the Milltown Superfund cleanup site with a gathering touting the success of the more than $100 million project paid for by a settlement with the Atlantic Richfield Co.

“This was a community that was so committed to a vision and to working together,” Julie DalSoglio, the director of the Montana office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said at the gathering, which marked the end of the heavy equipment work near Bonner.

She said she attended her first advisory group meeting on the Milltown site in 1989, after county officials found arsenic in Milltown’s drinking water.

The Superfund work began in 2006 when crews began rerouting the river to drain the reservoir and expose the sediment contaminated by toxic waste flowing down the Clark Fork River from Butte-area mines after a 1908 flood. In 2007, trains began hauling tons of sediment to holding ponds at Opportunity.

Milltown Dam was breached in 2008 and completely removed the following year.  Since then, bulldozers and graders scraped away the waste, dug new river channels and re-contoured the flood plain.

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

He credited former attorney general and state Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike McGrath for spearheading the legal settlement with Arco that provided $115 million for the cleanup, the Missoulian ( ) reported.

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

Some work remains to develop a state park and to make sure flood plain vegetation takes hold.

Salish Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee director Tony Incashola said it’s good for people to see the right thing happening.

“You’ve got to prepare for children and grandchildren,” he said. “This is a great gift for them and those yet to come.”