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A year ago this month, the Environmental Protection Agency recommended a comprehensive Superfund cleanup for the 32-hundred acre industrial site that housed the former Smurfit-Stone pulp and paper mill. The former mill sits 11-miles northwest of Missoula and operated from 1957 to early 2010. Toxic by-products were created during the manufacturing process; some of which still contaminate the site which is now owned by M2Green. The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks issued a "do not eat" advisory last year for northern pike and a "four meal per month" limit for rainbow trout. Talk of that potential Superfund designation has been fairly subdued over the past year. A public briefing today presented by the Clark Fork Coalition advances the story on a couple of different fronts. Read and Listen Here
DEER LODGE — Learning about the Clark Fork River sometimes means getting in it. That’s what some earth science and biology students from Powell County High School in Deer Lodge did this week as they collected data related to the river’s Superfund cleanup. It’s part of the Hands on the Ranch watershed education program sponsored by the Clark Fork Coalition. The students visited the Phase 1 cleanup area near Warm Springs to better understand the restoration process. Downstream at the coalition’s Dry Cottonwood Creek Ranch near Galen the students took stream health assessments and sampled soil. The information collected will be used as a baseline to help the coalition track the progress and impacts of Superfund cleanup on the ranch.
Jay Brooker, soil scientist from Missoula, showed students at a soil sampling pit, with minimal damage, how to understand the “story” the soil tells about its creation, health and composition.
The structure sits abandoned in the mud, its frame built of fallen logs, its roof partially thatched with twigs and a rotting tarp. Razors, bottles and plastic bags with human waste sit within reach of the rising Clark Fork River. Over the past few weeks, members of the Clark Fork Coalition and the Poverello Center have scouted this popular homeless encampment below Missoula’s Reserve Street Bridge ahead of a cleanup planned for Saturday. Nearly a dozen homeless camps lie scattered across the 80-acre site abutting the river. Most of the camps sit abandoned, and with the spring runoff drawing near, removing the garbage has become a pressing race against Mother Nature. read more
Volunteers hit the Clark Fork River on Tuesday to pick up all the trash that built up over the summer. The Clark Fork Coalition partnered with the Poverello Center to hold the first-ever Fall River Cleanup. By the end of the day, dozens of bags of trash were piled up along the Madison St. pedestrian bridge. Members of the Clark Fork Coalition said the end of a busy recreation season is the perfect time of year for a river cleanup.
Mayor John Engen is free to begin negotiating with the Carlyle Group to purchase Mountain Water Co., but members of the public urged him to proceed with caution. On Monday, the Missoula City Council voted 10-2 to approve an ordinance that gives the mayor authority to hammer out a deal to buy the water company – or begin the condemnation process. The council would have to approve any future purchase contract or move to condemn.
Three state agencies today issued fish consumption advisories for northern pike and rainbow trout on a 105-mile stretch of the Clark Fork River in western Montana. A "do not eat" advisory was issued for northern pike, and a "four meal per month" limit for rainbow trout, from the Clark Fork's confluence with the Bitterroot River, near Missoula, to the confluence with the Flathead River, near Paradise. The advisories were issued by the Montana departments of Fish, Wildlife & Parks, Environmental Quality and Public Health and Human Services in response to contaminant investigations in fish immediately downstream of the Smurfit Stone Container mill site in Frenchtown.
Bitterroot River floaters better brace for some long drags as a tough water year heads toward the end of irrigation season. The usually multi-channeled river shows lots of sandbars and few braids as it flows past Hamilton, Stevensville and Florence. Lake Como’s reservoir looks like a dirty bathtub. The river gauge at Buckhouse Bridge south of Missoula reports 30-year low levels. “And we’re 15 or 16 days into those lowest-recorded flows,” said Jed Whiteley of the Clark Fork Coalition during a flight over the Bitterroot Valley with EcoFlight pilot Bruce Gordon Tuesday. “Without Painted Rocks Reservoir, the Bitterroot would be pretty much dry.” Tributary streams like Lost Horse Creek and Burnt Fork Creek have almost nothing left for the river after the valley’s irrigators take care of their crops. ... read more
Waterways in western Montana have dropped to alarmingly low levels, frightening the farmers who depend on irrigation and worrying river managers charged with protecting the fish. Sunday afternoon NBC Montana met with Jed Whiteley, a Clark Fork Coalition project manager, to find out what people can do to help. Whiteley tells us extremely low water levels can be detrimental to sensitive trout populations. “We're very concerned about the state of our rivers and the impact on the fish right now,” he says. “Usually right around 68 degrees the trout really start to suffer, and like today, this river will probably hit close to 73 degrees by this evening.” Whiteley says river managers have been monitoring the Bitterroot River’s water levels for the past 30 years and this is the lowest level they have ever recorded. ... read more
The man arrived with his family on a Saturday morning toting suntan lotion, drinks, float tubes and snacks, the necessities of a summer outing on the Clark Fork River. But he also carried a trash bag, and spent a portion of his morning collecting cigarette butts and bottle tops discarded by other visitors. Up and down the Clark Fork’s urban stretch of river, receding waters have revealed the castoffs from a season of use. Beer cans, bottles, Styrofoam, plastics and cardboard lie stranded in the rocks and shoreline vegetation. The rest of the trash lies submerged beneath the current, and a growing number of river users are sounding the alarm. “You can stand there and paddle over any one spot and see 10 to 12 cans of beer on the bottom of the river,” said paddle boarder Boyd Hartwig. “The amount of full and empty cans and bottles of beer littering the river bottom has made it a de facto garbage dump.” ... read more
You know the old saying: if you don’t like the weather in Montana, just wait five minutes. We’re a state that’s known for its wild weather changes. But in recent years even our extremes have become extreme. Our fire seasons start sooner, last longer, burn hotter, and cost more to fight. Just two years ago the historic floods of 2011 became one of the most expensive natural disasters in state history. And in the past month alone we’ve seen intense wildfires, and destructive flash floods - both of which have threatened lives and destroyed property. At the center of these extremes are Montana’s vast river systems, which have taken a hard hit as severe drought, fire, and floods become the new norm. We can’t change the weather, but there is a lot we can do for our rivers, creeks, and streams that will make the impacts less severe. And right now there’s a proposal in Congress that will help. ... read more
“We’re on the confluence,” Karen Knudsen said excitedly from a raft Saturday. Knudsen, who serves as the Clark Fork Coalition’s executive director, described the feeling of putting in at the site of the former Milltown Dam and Superfund cleanup as “exhilaration.” Being able to float the section of river was the reward for more than a decade of work to remove the dam and toxic mining sediment behind it from the confluence of the Clark Fork and Blackfoot rivers, and restore the riverbed. The coalition’s Milltown-to-Downtown Float was part of the Missoula River Fest celebration in Caras Park on Saturday. ... read more
The flotilla carries the crew past the golf course, the gravel pit and a pair of screeching osprey clutching fish. Serviceberry and willow line the banks before parting at a rusting steel fence and a tangle of concrete dumped to slow erosion. This urban stretch of the Bitterroot River – from U.S. Highway 93 to the confluence with the Clark Fork River – flows in mixed health, and for members of the Clark Fork Coalition, the range of conditions serves as the perfect outdoor classroom. “There’s definitely some scour over here,” said Jed Whiteley, running his canoe onto a beachlike bank of sand. “This is an old floodplain – it’s all deposition and the river is taking it all away.” ... read more
Just west of Missoula, along the Clark Fork River in Frenchtown, lies 3,150 acres of land with a lot of potential, and a lot of contamination. From 1957 until 2010, when Smurfit-Stone closed up shop, this property was the site for pulp and paper manufacturing that produced liner board for cardboard boxes and provided good jobs for our community. But now that the current owners have stripped it of all the paper-making equipment, it’s safe to say that the future holds something very different for this land. Whether it languishes behind a locked gate or whether it’s productively restored and reused depends a lot on how it’s cleaned up. The Clark Fork Coalition believes that the federal Superfund program is the best way to accomplish that cleanup. ... read more
Clark Fork Coalition officials renewed their call for a full federal Superfund cleanup of the old Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. property Thursday, saying preliminary inspections showed enough toxic chemicals in the soils and groundwater to warrant Environmental Protection Agency involvement. M2Green President Ray Stillwell wants to finish scrapping the old paper mill and redevelop the land for a mix of industrial, residential and open space uses. He said a Superfund designation wasn’t warranted given the known levels of contamination, but would hurt his chances of bringing new owners and jobs to the 3,200-acre property. “We think this has the potential to cost a lot of money, and we’re not sure where the money would come from,” CFC science director Chris Brick said during a Thursday presentation at the mill site. ... read more
Montana and Idaho rivers could see some federal upgrades if a U.S. Senate-passed bill makes it into law. The Water Resources Development Act includes a $30 million provision to benefit the headwaters of the Missouri, Yellowstone and Columbia river systems. The Senate passed the $12 billion measure 83-14 last week. “There’s long been federal resources for river restoration projects that need repair after they’ve been badly damaged,” said Scott Bosse, Northern Rockies director for American Rivers. “This provides money to protect rivers while they’re still healthy.”
Leo Filardi, 8, grabbed gobs of trash Saturday from the banks of the Clark Fork River, but as he searched for garbage, he also found a treasure. The treasure rested in his hand, a shiny gray critter all coiled up. “It’s a rubber boa,” said Leo, who was picking up trash with his father and a friend. “It’s docile, and it doesn’t bite.” Saturday was the 10th anniversary of the Clark Fork Coalition’s annual River Cleanup, and nearly 900 volunteers hauled bags of litter and junk from the paths along the river. At the event, people gave back to the river, learned about community, and they picked up lots and lots of cigarette ends. “We found cigarette butts, and we found beer bottles,” Leo said. “We found really wet books. We found mugs. We found plastic – a lot of plastic.”. ... read more
Missoulian 4/11/13: Six-acre Broadway Island is Missoula's newest park (CFC "Walk & Talk" tour)
Missoula’s newest park isn’t quite ready for frolicking – in fact, it may soon be under water. But Broadway Island’s sandy beaches and riparian jungle will add some much needed open space to Missoula’s northern edge. The six-acre swath of land in the Clark Fork River near the Safeway grocery store became public land last spring, and should be ready for the public this summer or fall. “This whole area is seeing new use patterns,” said Missoula city conservation lands manager Morgan Valliant. “And it’s a really underserved area. It will be great to have some riverfront where people can come and play on.” ... read more
Pat Robins had that special ability to truly listen when people talked and to hear what wasn’t being said. Honed to a fine art in his professional life as a physician and orthopedic surgeon, that natural-born trait became an invaluable asset to all the many charities for which he volunteered his time and for the Clark Fork Coalition board of directors on which Robins served. It was one of the many things his wide circle of friends and family cherished about the compassionate man. “Pat was remarkable, and he was remarkable because he never met a stranger and he was incredibly kind,” said Tracy Stone-Manning, who worked alongside Robins when he was president of the Clark Fork Coalition board and Stone-Manning was the organization’s executive director. “When you talked with him, he would really listen and so he picked up things that were both said and unsaid, which made him a terrific board president,” Stone-Manning recalled. ... read more
Some real big fish swim in western Montana rivers. Leave them alone. As they slowly return from near extinction, bull trout have become a good problem to have for fisheries managers. Easy to catch, illegal to keep and difficult to nurture, the resurrection of bull trout dominated most of the conversation during last week’s annual guide gathering hosted by the Clark Fork Coalition. “Historically, there were bull trout in Lake Pend Oreille that went all the way up to Butte to spawn,” said Wade Fredenberg, of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “They were called ‘the poor man’s salmon.’ Today, we still have some that swim 150 miles to spawn.” It takes everything Mother Nature’s got to make a bull trout happy, so the fish’s presence in rivers like the Blackfoot and Clark Fork mean conditions have improved after decades of effort. ... read more
Chances are you live within short distance of a cold, clear lake, stream or river in the Clark Fork watershed. Whether you’re an angler, rancher or just someone who knows a good thing when they see it, you can appreciate that we have some of the best water around. But even in this vast 14 million-acre river basin, water is not an infinite resource. In fact, our rivers have taken some pretty hard hits over the last century, and are still facing threats, including drought, pollution and greater demands from growing communities, ranches and industries. ... read more
During his last week in office, Gov. Brian Schweitzer put a final OK to spending millions of dollars repairing mining damage in the Clark Fork River basin. “We were tickled when the framework got adopted, and now we’re glad the money plan is there to go with it,” Missoula County Commissioner Jean Curtiss said of the state Natural Resource Damage Program plan. The budget includes about $2.4 million for work at the future Milltown State Park where the Blackfoot and Clark Fork rivers meet east of Missoula. The money comes from a settlement between the state and Arco over responsibility for mining waste that washed into the Clark Fork from smelters at Butte and Anaconda over the past century. A huge flood in 1908 sent millions of tons of toxic sediment down the drainage. Much of it settled behind the former Milltown Dam, prompting a Superfund cleanup of the old reservoir there. ... read more
FRENCHTOWN - Boiled down, there seem to be only two viable options for cleaning up the old Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. paper mill site. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency can do it by placing the site on its Superfund National Priorities List, or owner M2Green can do it on its own dime. Both entities, and many others, were represented at a two-hour presentation at a West Valley Community Council meeting Thursday night at Frenchtown Junior High School. No fewer than 10 people from federal, state, county and community agencies shared a head table with M2Green owners Ray Stillwell and Mark Spizzo and helped lay out the situation to 90 or so curious locals who showed up on a frigid November evening. They came to see where the 3,200-acre site was headed now that a preliminary assessment by the EPA has revealed there are nasty contaminants at play in at least some of the soils, and those compounds and metals are already threatening the Clark Fork River ... read more
More coverage of Smurfit-Stone:
This year – for the first time in many – Tex Marsolek has high hopes that generations to come will make their own memories catching fish in the creek again. Those hopes follow a unique partnership that brought irrigators together with members of the Missoula-based Clark Fork Coalition to make much-needed repairs to the dam at Tin Cup Lake and install a state-of-the-art, satellite-controlled irrigation headgate capable of micromanaging the water in the reservoir. ... read more
A treeless ridge separates a million cubic yards of toxic mine waste from a potential new repository along Highway 279. The possibility of a temporary road connecting Mike Horse mine tailings to a proposed dump site could improve the $39 million cleanup project’s acceptability. It hasn’t mollified many Lincoln-area residents unconvinced the tailings need to be moved at all. But others like Paul Roos, a third-generation Lincoln resident and outfitter, believe it’s necessary to protect the headwaters of the Blackfoot River. ... read more
Russell Parks hopes the simple set of tools he’s set up outside his Missoulian Angler fly-fishing shop will make a big impact in the fight to keep invasive species out of area waterways. “The great thing about our area is all the different rivers we have access to, whether it’s in western Montana or into Idaho,” Parks said. But anglers hopping from river to river pose a potentially devastating threat to the streams, as they can become unintentional couriers of nasty critters. That’s why Parks helped set up the area’s first public boat washing station outside his shop. A quick scrub of boats, boots and waders can go a long way toward preventing the movement of invasive species, which range from mussels to plants to microorganisms too small to see. ... read more
The land along the mouth of Rock Creek – western Montana’s vaunted blue-ribbon trout stream – will remain undeveloped, thanks to a deal between the owners and several local conservation groups. Five Valleys Land Trust director Grant Kier announced the $1.6 million purchase at the group’s annual banquet on Saturday. The land trust is celebrating its 40th anniversary. The Clark Fork Coalition and Trout Unlimited are also helping with the project. Coalition director Karen Knudsen said her organization will concentrate on restoring some of the habitat, such as a large artificial pond built near the creek. ... read more
Despite the rush of events and a rare and unpredicted morning drizzle, the turnout at the 2012 River Cleanup surpassed last year’s record of 600. And the river did get clean. “There’s just a whole lot of garbage that washes down our waterways. Last year we got 3,000 pounds of trash and another 1,500 pounds of recyclables,” said Karen Knudsen, Clark Fork Coalition’s executive director. “What happens on the land ends up in the river, so river-keeping is something we need to do every day, and it’s great to pull so many people together at once to make a day of it.” As usual, the cleanup stretched from East Missoula to Kelly Island. ... read more
After the chaos of last spring’s floods, water watchers think 2012 might deliver a break. During a tour of Tower Street Park on Wednesday, Clark Fork Coalition river policy director Brianna Randall said many people got a hard lesson in streambank development risks in 2011. They also learned they must be aware of groundwater flooding, even if the river doesn’t overflow. “All the floodplains are recharge areas for the groundwater,” Randall said. “So a lot of floods here don’t come in some tsunami-like wave. What most people experienced was a slow rise.” Read more
Nobody wanted to see the Smurfit-Stone pulp mill fall into the hands of Tim Ralston last year. The Frenchtown mill had been an economic anchor in Missoula County for half a century before it shut down in early 2010. Ralston, a Portland, Ore.-based developer, wanted to gut it, selling the equipment. As Ralston's company, MLR Investments, negotiated to buy the mill for $12 million, he was vilified. Ralston cared nothing for reviving the mill or creating new jobs to take the place of the 400 that had been lost there; he was just a "scrapper," folks said. And that was unacceptable. Read more
The old Stimson Lumber mill site in Bonner isn’t clean yet. A monitoring well drilled 50 feet to the west of a contaminated cooling pond removed last year has detected concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, nearly 20 times higher than any previously found at the site. Three other new wells and a soil boring also came back “hot,” and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality announced Tuesday it’s calling the former mill owners back to finish the job. Stimson remains responsible for the cleanup. Webber declined to comment on a report that his company reached a settlement to share costs with its predecessor in Bonner. By the time Stimson took over in 1993 from Champion International Corp., now owned by International Paper Co., production of PCBs in the United States had been banned because of their toxicity. ... read more
By Sarah Bates: The western United Sates is defined by water-- or more accurately, by its scarcity. Ribbons of green mark the riparian zones that sustain life in an arid landscape. Access to water shapes the patterns of human settlement, as it has since the Hohokam civilization constructed elaborate dams and canals to grow crops and survive in what is now the Phoenix valley, more than 1,000 years ago. Subsequent settlers discovered that crops grown on rainfall along in the East required supplemental water west of the 100th meridian, the line that bisects the Great Plans and serves as a geographic marker of the transition to the West. Download the full article.
After a year of negotiations, a plan to spend $116.5 million fixing Clark Fork River Basin pollution damage received the governor's signature on Monday. That clears the way for communities from Butte to Missoula to restore or replace lands damaged by a century's worth of toxic waste from Anaconda Co. smelters and mines. Since 2000, state agencies have been spending interest from the cleanup fund on piecemeal projects in the upper river basin. The new plan gets away from the baby-step approach and allows long-range tasks to go forward. ... read more
"This would be a simple job of busting concrete," Jon Hayes said, "if it just weren't in the middle of a river." The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation forester stood in the middle of a ring of contractors interested in knocking down four railroad bridge piers in the Blackfoot River behind the closed Stimson Lumber Co. mill. There's money available to pull the towers out of the water, but no clear way to do it. ... read more
The Upper Clark Fork Advisory Council has approved a multi-million dollar plan to clean up the Clark Fork River. The governor appointed council helps decide how million of dollars of interest from a settlement between the state and Arco Mining Company will be spent. The lawsuit was settled in 1999, the money allocation started in 2000. The new plan calls for $116 million to be used for repairs between Butte and Milltown. ... read more
A million cubic yards of mine waste sit at the headwaters of the Blackfoot River with no place to go but down. The tailings nearly broke loose last spring, when snowmelt and groundwater threatened to repeat the Mike Horse Dam failure of 1975 that poisoned the river for years. Now, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality has a proposal that would bring the tailings out to a safe repository. But the agency's best option has nearby landowners ready to sue to stop it. ... read more
A New York Times feature and photo slideshow documenting new collaborative approaches to wolf management in western Montana. CFC Ranchlands Program Manager, Bryce Andrews, provides quotes and images to accompany the story.
Since the early 1940s, the Mike Horse Dam has loomed over the Blackfoot, holding back contaminates from the Mike Horse Mine, part of a mountainous mining district called the Upper Blackfoot Mining Complex (UBMC) some 15 miles upstream of Lincoln. In June 1975, at the peak of the spring runoff, the Mike Horse Dam, itself partly constructed of tailings, blew out, washing 100,000 tons of fine-grain tailings—laced with silver, gold, zinc, lead, cadmium, iron, copper and arsenic—into Beartrap Creek and the upper Blackfoot River, devastating fish and other aquatic life for miles. ... read more
The search for a place to move one million tons of mining waste now sitting at the headwaters of the Blackfoot River could be nearing resolution. But affected residents and interested agencies still have lots of questions about where the Mike Horse Mine tailings can safely go. The U.S. Forest Service and Montana Department of Environmental Quality are leading a tour of the site this Saturday, in advance of a public open house and hearing on the matter in Lincoln next Tuesday. ... read more
Racetrack Creek got a new lease on life thanks to a Deer Lodge rancher's decision to switch from flood to sprinkler irrigation. The tributary creek to the Clark Fork River had run dry most summers as croplands soaked up the available water in the drainage. This week, ranchers Rick and Nancy Cline agreed to sell some of their water rights on the R-N Ranch to the Clark Fork Coalition. The Missoula-based conservation group will use the 435 acre-feet of water to keep the creek flowing through the summer. ... read more
August 20, 2011 (Missoulian): Carlyle Group: PSC's 'additional issues' in Mountain Water sale 'unreasonable'
Public ownership of Missoula's water utility makes sense and the city of Missoula should have a chance to buy it. That was the overwhelming sentiment during public comment at a City Council committee discussion Wednesday on the proposed sale of Mountain Water Co.'s parent company to the Carlyle Group, a multinational private equity firm. Carlyle announced its intention to buy Park Water Co. in December. Park Water, based in California, owns Mountain Water, the company that provides most of Missoula with its drinking water and controls extensive water rights around the area. ... read more
An investment group that wants to buy Missoula's privately owned city water system apparently has future plans to sell the system after building up its value - and that could spell trouble for local ratepayers, an expert for a consumer-advocate office said. John Wilson, a consultant often hired by the Montana Consumer Counsel, also said a memo from the investment firm, The Carlyle Group, casts doubt on earlier indications that the city of Missoula would get first shot at buying Mountain Water Co. in the future. ... read more
A Helena district court judge has ruled that the state of Montana was wrong to take a "permitting shortcut" while allowing Revett Minerals to go ahead with construction of its proposed Rock Creek Mine beneath the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness near here. Now, the Spokane company will have to obtain an individual discharge permit under the Montana Water Quality Act - which means a full opportunity for public review and input - before construction can begin. ... read more
The state Public Service Commission decided Tuesday it has authority to review the sale of Missoula's privately owned water supplier, setting up a public hearing and formal inquiries on how the sale will affect consumers. "It's clear that the proposed sale of Mountain Water will affect thousands of Missoula ratepayers," said Commissioner Gail Gutsche, D-Missoula. "Asserting jurisdiction over the proceedings is the only way to guarantee that the issues surrounding the proposed sale are fully vetted." The Carlyle Group, an international investment firm based in Washington, D.C., plans to buy Mountain Water's parent company, the family-owned Park Water Co. of Downey, Calif. ... read more
An international investment group that plans to buy Missoula's city water company must provide state regulators with more information on how it treats similar investments, the state Public Service Commission said Tuesday. The PSC, which regulates utilities in Montana, also said the Carlyle Group should discuss its plans to become publicly traded and how those plans might affect future operation of Missoula's Mountain Water Co. ... read more
Long-range planning has to be finalized for a $100 million state Natural Resource Damage Program fund to restore the upper Clark Fork River drainage, according to Clark Fork Coalition director Karen Knudsen. On Wednesday, while Deer Lodge residents double-checked their sandbags after last week's midtown flood, Knudsen and Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock took an aerial tour of the area to talk about increasing future flows. ... read more
Armed with spray paint and stencils and sporting bright orange road workers' vests, students from Sussex School took to the streets Tuesday to relay a message to Rattlesnake Valley residents - storm drains are not magical places where water disappears, never to be seen again. The middle-schoolers spray-painted stencils reading "Drains to aquifer, protect our water" and "dump no waste" adjacent to storm drains on streets near Rattlesnake Elementary. They added to the approximately 60 storm drains already stenciled last week by groups from Rattlesnake Elementary and Missoula International School. ... read more
It took a crew of two cameramen, two producers, a couple of shuttle drivers and Jeff and Adele Scholl's GravityShots copter to capture two men fishing in a raft. All in the service of Trout Unlimited TV's look at the upper Clark Fork River Basin, where its local members and the Clark Fork Coalition are trying to rebuild a watershed burdened by a century of mining waste. The Missoula-based Barrett Productions crew was taping both the fishing quality and the restoration work of the Clark Fork from Racetrack to Missoula. That area comprises one of the largest federal Superfund sites in the nation. ... read more
The Montana House on Thursday endorsed the bill that would allow cyanide-leaching of ore from new open-pit gold or silver mines in the state, and thus amend a 1998 voter-passed initiative that banned such mines. The House endorsed Senate Bill 306 on a 63-37 vote, largely along party lines, with Republicans in favor. After a final vote on the measure, likely Friday, it will go to the desk of Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who hasn't said whether he'll sign it into law. SB306, sponsored by Sen. Terry Murphy, R-Cardwell, amends the 1998 ban by saying any new or existing open-pit mine can process its ore at cyanide heap-leach operations that existed in 1998 and were exempted from the ban. ... read more
Do we really have to say this again? Voters have already said "no" clearly - and repeatedly - to new open-pit mining operations that use cyanide to process ore. Montanans don't like the environmental risks it poses, and taxpayers don't like paying the costs of cleaning up the mess it often creates. That is why, in 1998, Montana voters approved Initiative 137 and prohibited the opening of new mines that rely on cyanide to extract precious metals. It also banned the expansion of existing operations. And it passed by a four-point margin, with 52 percent of voters in favor of the ban. ... read more
The Montana Public Service Commission voted Tuesday to grant the Clark Fork Coalition intervenor status as it considers the sale of Mountain Water Co.'s parent company to The Carlyle Group. The commission voted 4-1 to allow administrative intervention by the Missoula-based water-quality watchdog group during a work session in Helena. Alternative asset manager Carlyle is hoping to buy California-based Park Water Co., which owns Mountain Water Co. - which in turns provides most Missoula residents with their drinking water. The sale is under review in California and being considered for review by the Montana PSC. Tuesday's decision allows the Clark Fork Coalition to testify and file briefs as the PSC decides whether to exercise jurisdiction over the sale. ... read more
March 22, 2011 (Great Falls Tribune): Op-Ed: Lawmakers ignore voters on gold mining with cyanide
The Clark Fork Coalition is fighting for a seat at the table as the Montana Public Service Commission continues to consider its role in the proposed sale of Missoula's water supplier to alternative asset manager The Carlyle Group. The sale of Mountain Water Co.'s parent company, Park Water Co., to Carlyle is under state review in California. The Montana PSC has yet to assert its jurisdiction over the proposed sale, but will determine Tuesday if the Clark Fork Coalition has standing to be part of case proceedings - should they move forward. ... read more
Before Smurfit-Stone Container Corp.'s Frenchtown mill site begins a new life, a lot of people want to know what's happening to its legacy. The state Department of Environmental Quality wants the company to check for hazardous waste before the site is sold, and warned that any buyer would share liability for the cleanup. Missoula County commissioners want the state to make sure an old system of dikes and levees don't fail and release a half-century's accumulated waste into the Clark Fork River. And they're all wondering what will happen to the rights the company holds to millions of gallons of water. ... read more
Critics of a measure aimed at revising a 12-year-old prohibition on cyanide leach open-pit gold and silver mining said the bill would effectively repeal the 1998 voter-approved ban. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Terry Murphy, R-Cardwell, told the Senate Natural Resources Committee Friday that Senate Bill 306 is aimed at jump-starting the state's lagging gold and silver mining industry and to boost tax revenues in hardrock counties. ... read more
The city of Missoula, the Clark Fork Coalition and the multinational private equity firm looking to buy the city's public water supplier have all filed for intervenor status with the Montana Public Service Commission, as the board continues to assess what role it will play in the proposed sale of Park Water Co. to The Carlyle Group. Park Water is the parent company of Mountain Water Co., which provides most Missoula residents with their drinking water. The Montana Consumer Counsel will file for intervention on Wednesday, MCC attorney Mary Wright said in an e-mail. But the group won't take a position on the sale until later. The deadline for intervention is Wednesday. The filings are a reaction to a petition Mountain Water filed on Jan. 24 asking the PSC to waive jurisdiction over the sale of Park Water to Carlyle. The sale was announced in late December. ... read more
Like many other Missoulian subscribers, the Clark Fork Coalition was surprised to read the Dec. 23, 2010 news that Mountain Water Co. is in the process of being sold. The Missoula Valley's water system hasn't changed hands since 1979, when a California resident, Sam Wheeler, bought the utility from Montana Power Co. Wheeler also owns two water utilities in southern California. The three utilities together make up Park Water Co., which is now being acquired by the Carlyle Group, the world's largest alternative asset manager, with nearly $98 billion in assets and offices in 19 countries. Despite a vast portfolio in a wide range of sectors - aerospace, defense, transportation and technology among them - Carlyle has never controlled a water company. This would be its first foray into ownership of this resource that's vital to a community's life, health, and local economy. ... read more
This Coalition has helped craft and introduce a bill this session to require septic disclosure. The bill had a hearing Monday January 31 in the Senate Local Government Committee. “People need to know something about their septic systems,” said Sen. Ron Erickson, D-Missoula, the sponsor of Senate Bill 191. He told the panel some 80,000 lots developed since 1990 have septic systems. A survey in Lewis and Clark County showed that one-third of people with septic systems did not know the location of the systems, said Steve Kilbreath, program manager for the Department of Environmental Quality subdivision and public water supply engineering program, speaking in favor of the bill. ... read more
Missoula is the only major Montana city that doesn't own its water system, and its residents pay on average some of the highest rates in the state—$44.30 per month. That contrasts with Billings, where the average water user pays $37 per month, and Helena, where bills typically run $31.
Though Missoula pays more, Mountain Water Co.'s pipes are notoriously inefficient. According to the Montana Consumer Counsel, roughly 20 percent of water flowing through Mountain Water's lines is wasted due to leakage. read more
Don't look for those four megaloads of ConocoPhillips oil drums to pop over Lolo Pass before mid-January. But when they do, Montana's Department of Transportation is ready to give them the green light to Billings. "They've complied with all the requirements of state law and the (environmental) process, so we're just waiting to see what happens in Idaho right now," MDT director Jim Lynch said Thursday. A hearing officer in Boise recommended Tuesday that the Idaho Transportation Department allow the drums to move over U.S. Highway 12 from the Port of Lewiston to the Montana state line. read more
Finally, the Clark Fork River can relax. After five years of being dammed, diverted, diked and dirtied, the big river got to flush away the final ghost of Milltown Dam on Thursday. At 10:42 a.m., Envirocon excavator operator Dave Kramer started ripping out the last diversion dike, a mile above the confluence of the Clark Fork and Blackfoot rivers where the dam used to stand. At 11:01 a.m., water started rippling into the new serpentine channel. Cobbles in the new riverbed disappeared under the muddy flow, while the adjacent bypass channel started showing a bathtub ring as its current drained away. ... read more
It didn't take long for the funds that arose out of the state of Montana's settlement of its natural resource damage lawsuit against Arco to turn contentious. Only months after Arco agreed in 1998 to pay more than $215 million to help restore the Clark Fork River to its natural condition, communities along the river were staking claims to the money. That arguing, unfortunately, continues today. As Rob Chaney reported in a Dec. 5 Missoulian story, Butte and Missoula, in particular, are each advancing projects they hope to pay for with restoration funds. But the list of proposed projects is long, and the fund has shrunken to about $100 million. A dozen more sizable projects could leave the fund empty - and important restoration efforts unfinished. ... read more
Traditionally, Montanans who use stream or well water must have a legal claim, or water right, on file with the state. But in 1987, state lawmakers made an exemption in the law so that people didn’t need water rights for wells that pumped less than 100 gallons per minute. Back then, people believed groundwater supplies wouldn’t be affected by small wells. And they weren’t, when people lived far apart. Then, as more Americans migrated to a tamer West, some took advantage of the well exemption. Designed to help scattered agricultural families, exemptions encouraged some to subdivide agricultural and forested land into residential lots, each with its own exempt well. ... read more
The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation will amend a rule that has allowed large land developers to skirt the state water use law permitting process by creating subdivisions with unconnected water wells. Last week, a state judge signed off on an agreement that requires the state to amend the current rule addressing exempt wells within 15 months. The current exempt well rule allows land developers to drill multiple wells in a subdivision and appropriate an unlimited amount of water without oversight or permit. ... read more
What do a union rep and an environmentalist have in common? There is no punch line here. But a journey under downtown Missoula on Monday night offered a tantalizing assortment of possible ones. Mark Anderlik and Bob Clark of the Sierra Club had called together a revival of the Missoula Blue-Green Dialogues (blue as in blue-collar labor, green as in advocates of a healthy environment). They chose a hot-button topic to get things started: the Kearl Module Transportation Project, aka the big rigs. ... read more
If rivers thought of such things, they might find the human notion of anniversaries quaint. They roll over millenia, finding something new to do every day, sometimes every minute. They cleave mountains and fertilize plants, harbor life and kill at will. Sometimes, an anniversary is the best way to absorb that. ... read more
The state of Montana - and by extension, all Montanans - once made a promise to the people of Opportunity. A promise, in effect, from ourselves to ourselves. But that promise has not yet been kept. Those of us who live near the beautiful, beckoning recreation site that formerly housed the Milltown Dam might not often wonder just what happened to the 2.5 million cubic yards of toxic sediments that once rested at the bottom of the confluence of the Clark Fork and Blackfoot rivers, but those who live within sight of the barren 600 acres between Opportunity and Anaconda have a glaring reminder. ... read more
After hitting some potholes on the original “road map,” a citizens advisory group has worked out a 20-year plan to spend almost $100 million repairing the Upper Clark Fork River drainage. For 10 years, the citizens advisory group managed an annual project review while trying to craft a long-term spending plan. This final plan could guide restoration work in the Upper Clark Fork for the next 20 years ... read more
The 2.5 million cubic yards of fine-grained sediment dredged from the former reservoir east of Missoula has been spread 2 feet thick over more than 600 acres of wasteland between Anaconda and its satellite community of Opportunity. But it won’t grow grass. "They have to make something work, or they have to go back to the drawing board,” said Chris Brick, science director for the Clark Fork Coalition, a nonprofit watchdog group monitoring the river restoration. ... read more
The Obama administration has issued its final rule on critical habitat for the bull trout, one of the most fought-over threatened species in the country the past two decades. The rule issued Tuesday by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reverses Bush administration policy on endangered species by recognizing the importance of protecting habitat to restore fish and wildlife in danger of extinction. View Critical Habitat Map
A loophole in the Montana state law allows developers across the state to drill multiple small wells without obtaining a permit. As they sink dozens of closely clustered wells into an underground water table, some water users are saying the practice threatens farmers and ranchers who hold senior water rights by draining off the water that would normally enter the stream and groundwater system. This practice is affecting streams, rivers and streams across the state and leaving pastures, cropland, livestock and wildlife thirsting for more water. ... read more
Plans for a new Clark Fork River boat launch west of Missoula have raised concerns about how much power boat use it might attract. FWP bought the 12-acre parcel at the end of Harper's Bridge Road in 2008 for $63,000. It straddles both sides of the Clark Fork River and is broken into a third piece by a small slough that parallels Harper's Bridge Road. The new access site would be built on the northeast 1-acre corner. It would have at least 24 parking spaces, with expansion room for up to 36. ... read more
More and more, the exempt well rule in Montana is used contrary to the intent of our water law, which clearly states that the “exemption” is for one well at a time. Developers tend to use the poorly-worded rule to skirt the traditional permitting process and drill multiple unregulated wells for a subdivision without obtaining a permit—and without any oversight to make sure the water is physically and legally available ... read full commentary on Montana Public Radio
The operators of a wilderness dam say they will start preliminary work this fall on a major reconstruction project, following a decision by the regional forester that affirmed the project's environmental analysis. Last week, Regional Forester Leslie Weldon said the Bitterroot National Forest had done its job in addressing issues raised by Wilderness Watch and Friends of the Clearwater. The Tin Cup Water and Sewer District wants to reclaim the dam and spillway to its original height and storage capacity. The district has put together a funding package that includes $300,000 obtained through the Clark Fork Coalition and $100,000 from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Both entities would benefit through increased in-stream flows to Tin Cup Creek, an important native trout stream. ... read more
Montana regulators acknowledged this week that homebuilders are using permit-exempt wells to bypass laws intended to protect water supplies in arid areas, but they nonetheless rejected a bid to close what critics call a loophole to undermine ranchers' water rights. Western laws establish rights for drawing groundwater on a "first in time, first in right" basis, meaning landowners who have the oldest, longest-running claims -- some date as far back as 1860 -- take priority over those who arrived later to stick straws in the ground. ... read more
Last year a group of senior water right holders asked the state of Montana to require permitting of small residential wells. The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation released its ruling today denying that request. DNRC issued a statement saying, "The ruling protects senior water right holders while also recognizing that we face increasing demands for water in Montana." DNRC reports it will tackle this issue again within eight months and possibly draft changes to the rules at that time. ... read more
Two wilderness advocacy groups have filed an appeal seeking to force the Forest Service to redo its environmental analysis on proposed reconstruction of the Tin Cup Dam south of Darby. Wilderness Watch and the Friends of the Clearwater say the agency failed to analyze the potential of requiring dam operators to use nonmotorized equipment to complete the work. The Tin Cup Water and Sewer District wants to reclaim the dam and spillway to its original height and storage capacity. The district has put together a funding package that includes $300,000 obtained through the Clark Fork Coalition and $100,000 from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. ... read more
Last week, UM ornithologist Erick Greene and environmental chemist Heiko Langner teamed up with Raptor View Research director Rob Domenech to “borrow” the two chicks in the Riverside nest. They’ve been poking into nests all along the river basin, checking if ospreys are affected by heavy metal pollution from Montana’s mining past. ... read more
Missoula County commissioners are asking the state's Transportation Commission to require a more meaningful environmental review of the Kearl Module Transportation Project. In a strongly worded letter to transportation commission chairwoman Nancy Espy of Broadus, the Missoula commissioners took to task the Montana Department of Transportation. ... read more
Montana's strategy for jump-starting the local economy? Tap the Superfund. These days, Montana's fastest-growing industry is restoration, and ground zero for the boom is the Clark Fork. The cleanup of the 120-mile upper river will create some 3,500 jobs over the next decade. Much of the money funding the new "restoration economy" comes from the energy company ARCO, which has owned the mine responsible for the Clark Fork's degradation since 1977.
"There's simply more business in restoration," says Karen Knudsen, executive director of the local Clark Fork Coalition, a nonprofit that led the push for dam removal. "We want to be a global example of how a damaged watershed can be fixed."
Despite the fresh snowfall and freezing temperatures, people showed up in droves. Armed with camcorders, cameras, and binoculars, they jostled for position and scrambled over a hillside looking for the perfect pitch to witness a historic event. The governor and other notable representatives already had front-row seats.
After a few ceremonial words, a backhoe slowly carved away the last dirt barrier dividing the Clark Fork River. Nearly five minutes after the digging commenced, on March 28, 2008, the Clark Fork flowed unobstructed for the first time in more than 100 years.
Wherever he is, Montana governor Brian Schweitzer is in the company of Daniel Kiely and John Havlik, thirtysomething Missoula fishing buddies out to float all 320 miles of the Clark Fork, from its source in west-central Montana to its mouth at Idaho's Lake Pend Oreille.
Kiely conceived the trip in his capacity as a board member of the Missoula-based nonprofit Clark Fork Coalition. Since 1985, the group has worked to restore and protect the Clark Fork River, Montana's largest by volume, carrying 16.5 million acre-feet of water each year.