Bullock signs $5.4M ASARCO settlement funds for East Helena trails, water infrastructure

By Tom Kuglin, excerpt from Helena Independent Record

Gov. Steve Bullock signs the final Natural Resource Damage Program East Helena Restoration PlanGov. Steve Bullock on Monday signs the final Natural Resource Damage Program East Helena Restoration Plan, which allocates $5.4 million for the construction of the Greenway trail system and priority water infrastructure projects in the East Helena community.

The city of East Helena will receive $2.1 million for water infrastructure while $3.2 million will go to open space and trails across the former smelter site, per an agreement signed by Gov. Steve Bullock on Monday.

In 2006, the Montana Department of Justice Natural Resource Damage Program filed claims against former site owner ASARCO due to ongoing pollution from the former lead smelter. In 2009, as part of reorganization under bankruptcy, the state was paid $5.9 million in addition to an option to acquire 232 acres of ASARCO land at no cost.

On Monday, Bullock signed the final decision for spending more than $5.4 million.

“Our work here today is really about making sure that this next generation of kids growing up in the Helena Valley and East Helena have every opportunity to succeed and to realize and recognize their potential,” Bullock said. “Part of that is ensuring certainly that their environment is safe to live and play in, that their community has access to clean and safe drinking water, and that the ASARCO site itself is restored to provide for recreational use and amenities that’ll attract growth and opportunities to live and work in the community of East Helena.”

Under the decision, $3.2 million will go to development of the Greenway Trail linking East Helena to Montana City along Prickly Pear Creek. That plan includes conveyance of the state-owned land to Prickly Pear Land Trust for development of the trail and publicly accessible open space.

Read entire article here. 

EPA recognizes cleanup efforts at East Helena Superfund site

By Jacob Fuhrer, Excerpt from KTVH Helena


EAST HELENA — The Environmental Protection Agency honored stakeholders in the East Helena smelter cleanup with an award on Thursday.

EPA Region 8 Administrator Greg Sopkin presented the Montana Environmental Trust Group with the Excellence in Site Reuse Award for their efforts to promote redevelopment in East Helena.

The award is given to groups to “recognize significant achievement in protection of public health or the environment, or in advancing the Agency’s strategic goals.”

According to the EPA , since clean-up efforts began at the site of the former lead smelter, contamination in groundwater has been reduced, stormwater cleanly runs off of a massive protective cover and Prickly Pear Creek flows through a restored channel.

Thursday’s ceremony took place at the newly-constructed Prickly Pear Elementary School, a project that leaders say was made possible because of those cleanup efforts.

METG Managing Principal Cindy Brooks said she was honored to receive the award and that the EPA has been a big champion of the project from the beginning.

Watch video and read entire article here.

Prickly Pear Creek Relocation project earns national acclaim

Excerpt from KTVH/MTN News

HELENA – A stream realignment project in East Helena has earned national recognition.

The Prickly Pear Creek Relocation won the Grand Award in Engineering Excellence.

The Montana Environmental Trust Group made the announcement Monday.

The American Council of Engineering Companies recognized the project in its “Environmental Project” category.

The project involved reconstruction of more than a mile of stream.

Watch video and read entire article here.

East Helena breaks ground on new high school site

By Tyler Manning, Excerpt from the Helena Independent Record 

EHHS Groundbreaking

Superintendent Ron Whitmoyer (right) thanks the crowd at last year’s groundbreaking ceremony for East Helena High School. He was joined by members of the East Helena school board. TYLER MANNING

The East Helena community broke ground at the site of the upcoming East Helena High School on Monday.

The building, designed by SMA Architects, is set to open in fall 2020. Dick Anderson Construction will begin site prep as early as next week, according to school district superintendent Ron Whitmoyer.

“This school stands for something that is unique about this community,” Whitmoyer said. “And what education is all about.”

Whitmoyer said the school is representative of the East Helena community’s pride. He hoped that the sunny weather during groundbreaking will be an omen of good success for the school.

The school will be an official breakaway from the Helena school district for the community. Traditionally, East Helena students received their elementary education in East Helena before traveling to Helena for high school. With 110 students already signing up for East Helena High, Whitmoyer is excited to start a new journey with the community.

ASARCO settlement funds could be used for trails, water tank replacements in East Helena

By Tom Kuglin, Excerpt from the Helena Independent Record 

The state of Montana proposes spending nearly $5.5 million on water infrastructure, wetlands rehabilitation and recreation trails and creek access on former ASARCO lands in East Helena.

The Montana Department of Justice Natural Resource Damage Program is taking public comment on alternatives for spending the funds received following ASARCO’s bankruptcy about a decade ago. In 2006, the state filed environmental claims against the company due to damages from the former lead smelter. In 2009, as part of reorganization under bankruptcy, the state was paid $5.9 million in addition to an option to acquire 232 acres of ASARCO land at no cost.

The $5.9 million the state received is separate from the roughly $115 million ASARCO paid to clean up lands around East Helena. Those funds are managed by the Montana Environmental Trust Group with the state and federal government via the Environmental Protection Agency as the beneficiaries. In recent years, funding has gone to removal and replacement of contaminated soils along Prickly Pear Creek as well as other contaminated sites and dropping of ground water levels to isolate contaminates.

east helena 7.jpgCrews run material between the East Helena slag pile and the cap over contamination from the old smelter in this 2015 file photo. Tom Kuglin, Independent Record

Last year, EPA proposed capping the East Helena slag pile as part of its final plan for cleanup, although that plan and what type of cap to be used has not been finalized. The final report, called a “corrective measures study,” is expected in the coming months.

Greg Mullen, environmental scientist with DOJ, said the timing of the state’s proposal coincides with completion of restoration work by EPA, what officials call the “remedy.”

Read entire article here.

New year, new school: Photos from the first day at Prickly Pear Elementary

By Thom Bridge, excerpt and photos from the Helena Independent Record

Wednesday marked the first day of the new school year in East Helena’s new Prickly Pear Elementary School.

Wednesday marked, not only the first day of the new school year, but the first day in East Helena’s newest school Prickly Pear Elementary School.

The school was built with a $12 million bond passed by East Helena voters in 2017 to address crowding at Eastgate and Radley. The district also is in the process of building a $29.5 million high school.

Prickly Pear, houses first and second graders starting and was built with growth in mind. Jill Miller, who is principal at Eastgate and Prickly Pear, said the school hopefully will be able to keep up with expansion of East Helena for 15 to 20 years.

Read entire article and view photos here.

Voters in East Helena approve land purchase for new high school

By KTVH, excerpt and news video from KTVH.com

EAST HELENA – Voters in the East Helena school district have overwhelmingly approved the purchase of a land for a new high school.

East Helena Superintendent Ron Whitmoyer says the vote passes with 1,730 votes for and 395 votes against.

The school district sent out around 5,000 ballots total.

The property covers 35 acres at Dartman Field, just off Valley Drive, north of the Lewis and Clark Search and Rescue building.

The land will be purchased from the Montana Environmental Trust group for just over $200,000.

Whitmoyer says the property has to be officially subdivided before the sale can go through, but they expect it to be soon.

Read entire article and watch video here.

Mountain Outlaw Magazine: Freedom to Flow

Excerpt from “Freedom to Flow: Montana’s Prickly Pear Creek Sees New Life After Industrial Past” by Caitlin Styrsky. This story was originally published in the summer 2017 edition of Mountain Outlaw magazine.

Prickly Pear Creek flows out of Montana’s Elkhorn Mountains and winds through the scenic countryside of the Helena Valley. Although the creek primarily passes through bucolic pastures and grasslands, a portion of the waterway washed through rehabilitated habitat at the form American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO) facility in East Helena.

ASARCO began operating here in 1888 and for more than a century the smelter refined ore to produce lead bullion, an impure blend of lead, gold and silver. The smelting process also yielded valuable byproducts, such as copper, zinc and sulfuric acid, which were shipped to other refining facilities for further processing or sold as commodities to manufacturers.

At the time, lead was used to produce goods such as batteries, ammunition, lead-based paints and leaded gasoline. Although the East Helena facility employed generations of area residents, smelter operations also threatened the safety of the community by leaching arsenic, heavy metals, and other potential drinking water contaminants into the surrounding soil and groundwater. The Environmental Protection Agency added the ASARCO facility to its National Priorities List in 1984, but the site remained operational until 2001.

ASARCO declared bankruptcy in 2005 and the resulting court settlement placed the nonprofit Montana Environmental Trust Group in charge of evaluating the site’s environmental impact and cleaning up the property. This multi-year project includes the rehabilitation of a 1.25-mile stretch of Prickly Pear Creek.


Officials propose capping East Helena slag pile in final cleanup plan

By Tom Kuglin, Excerpt from the Helena Independent Record 

The reshaped Prickly Pear Creek flows through former Asarco property beneath the East Helena slag pile. Officials with the Montana Environmental Trust Group and EPA propose capping the slag pile in place as part of their final cleanup plan. Thom Bridge, thom.bridge@helenair.com

The environmental trust group charged with cleanup of the former East Helena smelter site proposed building a cap over the East Helena slag pile to prevent storm water from spreading contamination as its final major step in remediating the site at an open house in East Helena Wednesday.

The Montana Environmental Trust Group and Environmental Protection Agency presented a draft of its final cleanup plan, called a corrective measures study. The document, which is open for public comment, incorporates remediation and protective actions completed to date with remaining work the trust proposes.

The trust controls both the smelter site and Asarco-owned lands in the area. Contamination includes arsenic and selenium in soils at the site that have caused groundwater plumes and levels above safe drinking water standards.

In the years since the settlement and ahead of the corrective measures study, contractors have analyzed contamination and performed “interim measures” addressing pollution. Interim measures have included capping much of the site to isolate contaminated soil, removing some soil, dropping groundwater levels to stop or slow the leeching of contaminates into the water, and rechanneling Prickly Pear Creek.

On Wednesday, officials told about 40 people in East Helena that those interim measures have begun reducing concentrations and the size of plumes by largely cutting off their sources.

Read entire article here.




East Helena environmental cleanup plan subject of Wednesday open house

By Tom Kuglin, Excerpt from the Helena Independent Record 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Montana Environmental Trust Group are holding an open house Wednesday to discuss a draft report for environmental cleanup in East Helena.

In 1998, a century of contamination at the East Helena lead smelter site and other facilities resulted in a multimillion dollar settlement between Asarco and EPA for violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the Clean Water Act. The smelter closed in 2001, and after later declaring bankruptcy, Asarco placed about $95 million in a trust managed by the Montana Environmental Trust Group. The state of Montana is represented in the trust via the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and the Montana Department of Justice along with the EPA.

The trust controls both the smelter site and Asarco-owned lands in the area. Contamination includes arsenic and selenium at the site, as well as groundwater plumes.

In the years since the settlement and ahead of the corrective measures study detailing the final cleanup plan, contractors have analyzed contamination and performed “interim measures” addressing pollution. These interim measures include capping the site to stop storm water from spreading contamination.

Read the full article here.