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Agencies consider the future of Montana's Slag Wall Canyon.

An increase in metals in Silver Bow Creek along the Slag Wall Canyon, just west of South Montana Street, could lead to a new future landscape for the creek.

Under the auspices of the Natural Resource Damage Council, the state has proposed an investigation of the old Butte Reduction Works site, where Butte-Silver Bow County's hot-mix plant is located at the railroad overpass several blocks south of Front Street. That probe is expected to begin sometime this year.

A copper smelter site from the 1880s to 1911, the Butte Reduction Works--and its leftover tailings--were documented. NRD environmental scientist Pat Cunneen says the state has historical information that shows the tailings from the smelter were placed under the slag walls and behind it along Silver Bow Creek.

The state hired a consultant out of Missoula to monitor the fish in that area in 2012, and the results from that study indicated that fish migrate through there but do not stick around.

What the future of the site--and the creek--will look like is still anybody's guess because the issue is now part of consent-decree negotiations. Those are held behind closed doors between the agencies and the responsible parties--Atlantic Richfield Company and the county.

One complication is that the asphalt plant, which the county uses for road repair, will likely need to be moved. Another complication is how heavy the slag walls are and what it would take to remove them.

Nikia Greene, Environmental Protection Agency project manager for the Butte Hill, would only confirm that the site is being investigated. He could not say when the results will become available.

Compared to the tailings, the slag walls are considered a "secondary concern." Cunneen said the Bureau of Mines did a study on slag buried over the Parrot tailings behind the Butte Civic Center in 2010 which showed that slag can leach metals.

Montana Tech professor Chris Gammons, who oversaw a graduate student's study of slag this past school year, said what is more concerning about the slag is deposits of what he calls "salts" that collect on the slag and then are washed into the creek during storms.

Cunneen said removing the slag walls--if that is what the agencies, ARCO and the county agree on--would be a significant project in addition to moving the tailings that lie underneath. Another option would be to prevent the stream or groundwater from coming into contact with the slag walls. Cunneen said he could not elaborate further, citing the court order that makes consent decree negotiations secret.

Restore Our Creek spokesperson Northey Tretheway said the group, which has been pressuring EPA and the state for a comprehensive cleanup of upper Silver Bow Creek east of South Montana Street, wants the entire creek cleaned, and that includes Silver Bow Creek to the west of South Montana Street.

Source: Susan Dunlap, Montana Standard

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Publication:Hazardous Waste Superfund Alert
Date:Jun 30, 2016
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