The community has many common misconceptions about the Berkeley Pit. This section addresses a few of those most often heard false statements.
Migratory waterfowl are instantly killed if they land on water in the Berkeley Pit.
Hundreds of waterfowl land on the surface of the Berkeley Pit every month during the migration season, and they fly off within a few hours, either on their own or through MR’s hazing activities. The Consent Decree recognizes that “birds exposed to Berkeley Pit water for less than 4-6 hours should not be at substantial risk.”
If a bird is observed suffering from the effects of water toxicity it is netted and brought on board the houseboat used to patrol the Berkeley Pit. The bird is placed in a 5-gallon bucket of fresh water and brought to shore. It is then transported to a veterinarian or released into fresh water at the north end of Yankee Doodle Tailings Pond.
There are two reasons why the Pit will never overflow. First, the 1994 Record of Decision and 2002 Consent Decree established the maximum level that the water will be allowed to reach to make sure the Berkeley Pit is lowest point in the cone of depression (see center graphic). Wells to monitor water levels have been set up. Failure to keep the water below the 5410′ elevation would result in steep fines for BP/Atlantic Richfield and Montana Resources. Second, the Horseshoe Bend Water Treatment Plant is already in-place and operating. It has the capacity (7 Million Gallons per Day) to treat water from the Berkeley Pit, when it becomes necessary. This will ensure the water level remains below 5,410′.
The Horseshoe Bend Water Treatment Plant will empty the Berkeley Pit.
In the 1994 Record of Decision, the agencies decided that it would be unfeasible for the Potentially Responsible Parties (PRP’s) to ever completely empty the Berkeley Pit. The remedy selected for the Berkeley Pit is to treat all water inflows to maintain the level below 5,410′ above sea level.
Congress is cutting the national Superfund program and the operation of the Horseshoe Bend Water treatment Plant will be discontinued.
The ‘Butte Mine Flooding Superfund Site’ is the responsibility of BP/Atlantic Richfield and Montana Resources. Thus, the plant will not be affected by any changes to the EPA’s Superfund Program. The legally binding Consent Decree, which was signed by the responsible parties in 2002, established the financial commitment to operate and maintain the water treatment plant in perpetuity.
Since the last issue of PITWATCH, Montana Resources has decided to resume operations. With the mine going again and with the water treatment plant coming on line, there have been many questions from the community. Here are some answers to reader questions.
Q: How much total water went into the Berkeley Pit since the suspension of mining at Montana Resources?
A: About 7.5 billion gallons of water or an average of 6 mgd has gone into the Pit since MR suspended operations. An average of 3.4 mgd of this total was from the underground workings and storm water flow. An average of 2.6 mgd of this total was from the Horseshoe Bend discharge.
Q: How much water will go into the Pit once mining operations resume completely and the water treatment facility is operating?
A: The Horseshoe Bend drainage flow will be treated in the new treatment plant, and presently, this water will be entirely consumed in the mining operations. The remaining 3.4 mgd of flow from the underground workings and storm water flow will still flow into the Pit contributing to the rising level there. Eventually, when the water level approaches 5,410′ above sea level (expected about 2018), water will have to be pumped from the Berkeley Pit and treated at the Horseshoe Bend facility. Having the plant in place provides assurance that the capability is there when it becomes necessary to treat Pit water.
Q: Where will the treated water go?
A: Current plans are to treat the entire Horseshoe Bend drainage flow at the treatment plant, and then route all of the treated water to the concentrator for use in mine operations. As a result, and for as long as the treated water is used in the mining circuit, there will be no discharge off-site. In the event the mine was to suspend operations again, Horseshoe Bend drainage water would be treated to discharge standards at the plant. Then it would be transported by a pipeline, being constructed along the historic Silver Bow Creek channel (Metro Storm Drain), to its confluence with Blacktail Creek, just west of the Visitor’s Center on George Street in Butte, Montana.
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.