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Background: America's largest Superfund site begins with Butte in western Montana at the headwaters of the Clark Fork River. The upper Clark Fork River Basin is truly a Superfund megasite, taking in three major Superfund sites (each a megasite in its own right) Each of these major sites is split up into numerous sub-sites known as Operable Units. Remediation and/or restoration of these sites is ongoing. The environmental and human health damages in this area were all caused by the mining and smelting operations of the Anaconda Copper Mining Company and remediation and/or restoration of these sites is ongoing.
At the heart of Montana’s mining boom, the Upper Clark Fork fueled the growth of the state and provided the copper that electrified the nation. But the meandering headwaters of the Clark Fork paid a heavy toll–even running red at times–as the resulting pollution washed downstream and over river banks. Long before environmental laws were in place, a massive flood in 1908 washed millions of tons of contaminated sediment downstream and deposited metals in the floodplain for over 120 river miles. The contamination impacted drinking water wells and agricultural soils, and today the river functions at only 1/5 of its fishery potential. Today, this watershed it’s the center of one of the most remarkable restoration stories in the world–a rare second chance for a hard-working river
Clark Fork River Natural Resource Damage Assessment
ISSUE: What is the status of the Service’s claim for natural resource damages in the Clark Fork River Basin?
- A Consent Decree was lodged on 16 November, 1998 and noticed in the Federal Register on 10 December, 1998. The Consent Decree provides the equivalent of $16.5 million for settlement of all Service natural resource damage claims against ARCO in the Clark Fork River Basin. Specific provisions include:
- ARCO will pay the Service $1.7 million dollars and create 400 acres of wetlands (work valued at $3.2 million dollars).
- The State of Montana and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes will create 1,200 additional acres of wetlands (work valued at $9.6 million) to further compensate the Service.
- The State and Tribes will perform a minimum of $2 million of bull trout habitat restoration work within the Clark Fork River basin.
- The Service continues to provide technical assistance to EPA via an interagency agreement and to work with ARCO and EPA to integrate restoration with remediation.
- The State of Montana will receive $15 million for past assessment and litigation costs, $80 million for Silver Bow Creek remediation, and $135 million for partial resolution of natural resource damage claims.
- The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes will receive $18.3 million for settlement of all damage claims.
- The Consent Decree reserves the State of Montana natural resource damage claims for the mainstem of the Clark Fork River, Butte groundwater and Anaconda uplands, and reserves the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management claims for parcels along the Clark Fork River.