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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).

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

Meet Our 2002 Science Fair Winners


PitWatch Issue Volume 7, Number 1

The Committee awarded $50 savings bonds to the four grade-school students and a $250 bond to the high school student. Their science fair projects all explored important topics related to the Berkeley Pit. Congratulations to everyone who competed in the Fair, and keep up the good work! Remember, the Committee will offer awards again at the 2003 Science Fair, and students are encouraged to choose projects related to the Pit for next year’s competition.

John Metesh 5th grade, Kennedy "Can Berkeley Pit Water Be Good For You?"John Metesh
5th grade, Kennedy
“Can Berkeley Pit Water Be Good For You?”

 

 

Cara Patton 6th grade, Margaret Leary "Horseshoe Bend Water and Soap"Cara Patton
6th grade, Margaret Leary
“Horseshoe Bend Water and Soap”

 

 

Abby Roberts 7th grade, Chief Joseph Middle School (Bozeman) "Solar Evaporator For Mine"Abby Roberts
7th grade, Chief Joseph Middle School (Bozeman)
“Solar Evaporator For Mine”

 

 

Kels Phelps  8th grade, East Middle School "Do Microbes Growing In Unique Ecological Niches Contain Compounds With Redeemable Medicinal Value?"Kels Phelps
8th grade, East Middle School
“Do Microbes Growing In Unique Ecological Niches Contain Compounds With Redeemable Medicinal Value?”

 

 

Alexandra Antonioli  Junior, Butte High "An Investigation of the Remediation of Berkeley Pit Water Using Genetically Modified Extremophilic Yeast"Alexandra Antonioli
Junior, Butte High
“An Investigation of the Remediation of Berkeley Pit Water Using Genetically Modified Extremophilic Yeast”

Consent Decree Announced


Berkeley Pit, 2006.
Berkeley Pit, 2006. Click on the image to view a larger version.

Pitwatch Issue Volume 7, Number 1

In March 2002, the Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) and Montana Resources (MR) agreed to sign a Consent Decree, a legally binding document that will be entered in federal court. The Consent Decree requires these companies to reimburse EPA and DEQ for past costs, and pay now for future oversight costs. It also guarantees that these companies will perform a number of tasks and provide financial assurances to pay all costs to complete the required work.

Most importantly, the Consent Decree sets a firm schedule for Arco and MR to build a water treatment facility, and confirms their obligations to operate and maintain the facility – including sludge disposal – in perpetuity. Also included in the Consent Decree are commitments 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 (through the EPA and DEQ) to continue the mine flooding monitoring program, and to fund public education activities (e.g., PITWATCH).

As part of the process, ten changes were made to the Record of Decision (1994). For example, changes were made to recognize new stream and discharge standards for the treated water, to allow Continental Pit water treatment in the Horseshoe Bend plant, and to allow sludge disposal in the Berkeley Pit. Another change eliminates the requirement to reevaluate treatment technologies when the water level in the Pit reaches the 5,260′ level, since the treatment plant will already be built. The Consent Decree also clarifies which cleanup tasks will be done under the Superfund program and which will be done under the State’s active mine permit reclamation program.

The Consent Decree was released on March 26, 2002 for public comment until May 4, and is expected to be finalized thereafter. Contact the Committee with any questions.