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Month: August 2002

Mine Flooding Consent Decree Signed by Federal Judge

Looking south toward Butte, Montana over the Berkeley Pit, from the Yankee Doodle Tailings Pond dam. Photo by Justin Ringsak.
Looking south toward Butte, Montana over the Berkeley Pit, from the Yankee Doodle Tailings Pond dam.

On August 14, 2002, U.S. District Judge Sam E. Haddon signed the Mine Flooding Consent Decree between the Atlantic Richfield Company (Arco), the Montana Resources Group (MR), the U.S. EPA, the State of Montana (DEQ) and the U.S. Department of Justice.

The Consent Decree was released for public review on March 26, 2002, with a May 4 deadline to submit public comments to the federal court. EPA and DEQ reviewed the comments submitted and in late July 2002, the Agencies submitted a report to the federal court recommending that none of the public comments warranted any changes in the Decree. Subsequently, Judge Haddon approved and signed the Consent Decree as originally drafted.

With the Consent Decree lodged in federal court as a legally binding agreement, Arco and MR proceeded with plans to build the Horseshoe Bend Water Treatment Plant. The companies are also obligated to provide annual financial statements to document their capability to pay all costs to operate and maintain the facility – including sludge disposal – in perpetuity.

The Decree also requires Arco and MR to reimburse EPA and DEQ for past costs and pay now for future oversight costs. Other obligations are to enhance the waterfowl protection program at the Berkeley Pit, to establish a groundwater control area surrounding the Berkeley, to fund the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology to continue the mine flooding monitoring program, and to fund public education (e.g., PITWATCH).

Butte Students Explore Pit Clean Up, Win National Awards

Two Butte students – Alexandra Antonioli and Kels Phelps – have taken their school science projects to the highest levels of success. After claiming local awards from the Pit Committee, their impressive work has earned national awards and scholarships for their continuing education.

Alexandra, a Butte High senior, has spent most of her educational career working on science fair projects relating to solutions and issues regarding the Berkeley Pit. When she’s not swimming and playing piano, she’s working on her main project titled, “An Investigation of the Remediation of Berkeley Pit Water Using Genetically Modified Extremophilic Yeast”. Although it’s quite complicated, Alexandra’s simplified explanation is the project deals with evaluating microorganisms and their ability to sequester the complex mineral compounds contained within the water. The end result is the potential detoxification of Pit water. For her work, Alexandra has received a full scholarship ($78,000) to Drexel University for microbiology, as well as numerous other honors, including awards from the Navy, the University of Montana and Montana Tech.

Kels, a Butte High freshman, has also concentrated on microbiology and the Berkeley Pit for his science fair project. The project, “Do Microbes Growing in Unique Ecological Niches Contain Compounds with Redeemable Medicinal Value,” was one of 40 finalists (out of 60,000 nominations) in the Discovery Channel Young Scientist Challenge in Washington, D.C. in October 2002. At this national competition, Kels won a special award for leadership, a physics award, and a scholarship to attend an aviation camp in Wisconsin next summer. Kels says his project was looking for a possible medicine from a fungus that grows in the Berkeley Pit. Tested for its ability to fight cancer and five types of infections, it was discovered that this fungus was a possible anti-cancer agent and lethal to Staphylococcus aureus.

Others Butte students are encouraged to develop projects related to mining or the Berkeley Pit for the 2003 Science Fair next spring at Montana Tech.

Consent Decree (CD) for the Berkeley Pit

A Consent Decree (CD) is a legal document, approved by a judge, that formalizes an agreement reached between EPA and Potentially Responsible Parties (PRPs) through which PRPs will conduct all or part of a cleanup action at a Superfund site; cease or correct actions or processes that are polluting the environment; or otherwise comply with EPA initiated regulatory enforcement actions to resolve the contamination at the Superfund site involved. The consent decree describes the actions PRPs will take and may be subject to a public comment period.

Together with the Record of Decision and other supplementary documents, the CD governs future management of cleanup sites.

A lawsuit between the State of Montana and PRPs for Superfund sites in Butte and the Clark Fork Basin resulted in numerous CDs for different areas. The Consent Decree for the Butte Mine Flooding Operable Unit, which includes the Berkeley Pit, was published in 2002, and can be downloaded below.

2002 Consent Decree Download