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Proposed waste repository site draws criticism at Centerville meeting

By Robin Jordan

About 70 people attended a meeting at the Centerville Fire Hall last week where representatives of Atlantic Richfield gave a presentation showing several possible sites proposed for a waste repository near the Kelley Mine Yard.

At the meeting last Tuesday, Oct. 17, Josh Bryson of Atlantic Richfield said a siting committee, which includes members of the public as well as Butte-Silver Bow officials and representatives from Atlantic Richfield and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, currently propose building a waste repository in the area north of the Kelley Mine and to the east and south of Centerville.

Locating a site for a waste repository is a critical step in the planned Superfund cleanup of the Butte Priority Soils Operable Area (BPSOU), Bryson said. The repository will be needed for an estimated 850,000 cubic yards of waste that will be excavated from the Diggings East, Northside Tailings, and Buffalo Gulch areas. During a study for the repository, which is required by the EPA, and which has been underway for many years, he said, what the committee has heard is, “Get the waste back up to the mine.”

A proposal earlier this year to move the waste to the Pittsmont Dump, which is on property owned by Montana Resources, was rejected, he said, because it does not meet requirements of the 2020 Consent Decree for the BPSOU. Under the Consent Decree, Bryson said, the waste must be placed in a capped repository, which Atlantic Richfield is required to maintain and monitor in perpetuity.

The area currently proposed near the Kelley Mine includes land owned by Atlantic Richfield and Butte-Silver Bow. Bryson showed a map of the area divided into five potential sites for a repository. One portion, on the north end near Centerville, he said, has already been rejected as a site because it is within 75 yards of the nearest residence. The repository, he said, would require all of one of the five potential sites and possibly portions of one or two others.

Bryson said Atlantic Richfield also understands residents’ concerns about preserving historic remnants of Dublin Gulch, which is within one of the potential sites shown on the map, and plans to avoid disturbing that area.

Mitzi Rossillon, a consulting archeologist, spoke at the meeting about her cultural resources survey of the Dublin Gulch area. Dublin Gulch, she said, is important as Butte’s first ethnic community recognized and the site of “increasingly rare remnants of an ethnic neighborhood.” Among historic features she found were stacked rock walls, historic plantings of bushes and flowers, and remnants of various historic mining features.

In such a historic area, Rossillon said actions that can be taken range from full avoidance to “impact mitigation,” such as providing interpretive signage. Within that range, she said, there are opportunities to add public amenities to the Gulch area, such as expanded trails and interpretive signage.

When the meeting was opened for questions from the public, Bryson was asked why the waste couldn’t be dumped in the Berkeley Pit instead of building a repository.

Besides the requirement in the Consent Decree to build and maintain a repository, Bryson said, he would not ask Atlantic Richfield’s contractors to operate heavy equipment on the slopes above the pit for safety reasons.

Jim Keane, a former Butte legislator, shot back, “I spent my entire life working on equipment, and that’s the lamest excuse I’ve ever heard—that you can’t push stuff off into the Pit. That’s a poor excuse.”

Evan Barrett, one of Butte’s Superfund watchdogs has repeatedly expressed concern over the EPA’s proposal to use slightly contaminated material onsite, which he called “dirty dirt,” as fill in portions of the BPSOU. He asked Bryson how much material would have to be removed if all the contaminated soil was excavated and if the proposed repository would hold it.

Bryson said that volume would be more than one million cubic yards, and while the proposed area near the Kelley would be large enough hold all that waste material, “It would bury the gulch.”

Butte-Silver Bow Chief Executive J.P. Gallagher told the audience no decision has been made about locating the repository in the Centerville area. He said the siting committee would take the comments made at the meeting into consideration in its further deliberations.

Bryson said more information about the proposed repository and a possible haul route will be made available at an open house scheduled for November 2. The time and place of that meeting have not yet been determined, he said, but will be announced.

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