East Helena school district officially acquires Dartman Field

Marga Lincoln, Excerpt from the Helena Independent Record

East Helena Public Schools officials signed a deal Wednesday to take ownership of 50 acres of Dartman Field, according to school district superintendent Ron Whitmoyer.

“The final cost to the district is $90,931,” he said.

“This is a banner day for the taxpayers of East Helena — to have this property as a place to expand the school district as it continues to grow,” he said, “and hopefully serves the school district the next 50 years.”

Current school district enrollment is around 1,200 students, and the district could reach its enrollment capacity of 1,300 in the next three years.

The district has worked on acquiring the Dartman property, located just north of Radley School on Valley Drive, for close to six years.

The 50 acres, which will need remediation for arsenic contamination from the old East Helena lead smelter, is a donation from the Montana Environmental Trust Group.

METG has owned the field and controls assets from a settlement with Asarco, which at one time operated the smelter.

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Building options go to East Helena School Board for next steps, bond proposal at least 10 months off

By Marga Lincoln, Excerpt from the Helena Independent Record 

Constructing a new school or building additions on two existing schools were the two options put on the table at the East Helena School District Board of Trustees at its Monday night board meeting.

“We will mull over your recommendations,” board president Scott Walter told the Long Term Infrastructure Committee members, while thanking them for their months of work.

The next step is for the school board infrastructure committee to thoroughly examine the options before bringing back a proposal to the full board, he said.

School superintendent Ron Whitmoyer said the board needs to develop an action plan to take the next steps.

“I can’t see a bond issue by November,” he said, although that had been an initial target when discussions were launched last fall.

It may be 10 or 11 months before there is a ballot proposal, he said.

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Dartman Field and facilities plan on East Helena Schools Monday night agenda

By Marga Lincoln, Excerpt from the Helena Independent Record 

An update on East Helena School District’s purchase and sale agreement for Dartman Field, a 50-acre parcel contiguous to Radley School, is on the agenda for the board of trustees meeting 5:30 p.m. Monday, June 13, at East Valley Middle School.

“It is simply an update on the status of the process,” said Superintendent Ron Whitmoyer. “How close we are to closing.”

The field, which is contaminated with lead from historic smelting operations, is being donated to the district by the Montana Environmental Trust Group and will require remediation.

The school district has applied for a grant to clean it up and “make it suitable for students,” said Whitmoyer.

Although the land is being donated, the district will be paying $90,000 to cover legal, technical, managerial and third-party costs.

Whitmoyer predicts the agreement could be signed any time before the end of the summer, but he has no firm date.

The 50-acre parcel is intended to accommodate the district’s expansion needs for the next 40 to 50 years, according to information in previous IR articles.

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East Helena Schools narrowing down facility options at Monday meeting

Marga Lincoln, Excerpt from the Helena Independent Record

East Helena Public Schools will take another step in its facility planning Monday night, with a public meeting set for 5:30 p.m. at East Valley Middle School library, 400 Kalispell Ave., East Helena.

“We want to sort through the options to pursue with the growth issues we’re dealing with,” said superintendent Ron Whitmoyer.

The district’s enrollment grew by 47 students this past year, a big leap from the typical annual increase of 8 to 10 students.

Based on the number of new houses going up in East Helena, the district expects to reach its capacity of 1,300 students within the next three years.

East Helena facilities planning meetings kicked into high gear in January.

Since then, citizens and staff, working with Slate Architecture, have narrowed the building options from 11 to four to address overcrowding.

And earlier this month, school district officials signed a purchase and sale agreement for Dartman Field, a 50-acre site contiguous to Radley School. The district plans to pay $90,000 for donation of the site by the Montana Environmental Trust Group, said Whitmoyer. The amount covers legal, technical, managerial and third-party costs.

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East Helena School Board to vote on acquiring Dartman Field

Marga Lincoln, Excerpt from the Helena Independent Record

The East Helena School District’s purchase agreement to acquire Dartman Field is on the agenda for Monday’s board of trustees’ meeting 5:30 p.m. at East Valley Middle School Library.

“This is the purchase of 50 acres that will hopefully set the district up to accommodate the growth of enrollment for 40 or 50 years into the future,” wrote school superintendent Ron Whitmoyer in a text message.

“The deal is finally on its hopefully firm road to conclusion,” he wrote, adding that he wasn’t “sure about it until Thursday.”

The title for the parcel of land is held by the Montana Environmental Trust Group, which acquired it when Asarco filed and emerged from bankruptcy in 2009, according to Whitmoyer and information on METG’s website.

At that time, the trust received funding to cleanup four contaminated Asarco sites in Montana, including land in East Helena, the website states.

Dartman Field has lead contamination, said Whitmoyer, as did the properties where Radley School and EVMS are located — which had lead remediation work done in the past.

The school district has a grant in progress, he said, to clean up Dartman Field and “make it suitable for students.”

‘It’s pretty clear what we need to do’: cleanup of East Helena smelter site in full swing

by Tom Kuglin, Excerpt from Independent Record

From atop the black mass of the East Helena slag pile, Environmental Protection Agency project manager Betsy Burns pointed to the features of an engineered floodplain and creek channel where Prickly Pear Creek will one day flow.

Heavy machinery revved and chirped below — to the east digging the channel, and to the west constructing a cap of rock and topsoil over contaminated material below the surface.

“Every day you come out here it’s pretty amazing the amount of material they’ve moved,” Burns said.

In 1998, contamination from Asarco’s lead smelter resulted in a multimillion dollar settlement with the EPA for violation 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 for related cleanup costs.

The trust has spent approximately $25 million to date, Burns said, which is “on track” with budget expectations. The majority of material used has been available on site and crews moved about 500,000 cubic yards of material this season, she added.

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Next year’s East Helena Asarco site cleanup plan to be presented

Eve Byron, Excerpt from the Helena Independent Record

The 2014 plan for the ongoing effort to clean up the former Asarco smelter site in East Helena and reduce the migration of groundwater plumes contaminated with arsenic and selenium will be presented to the community during a meeting on Dec. 18.

The public meeting on the proposed 2014 work plan is set for 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Dec. 18 at the Montana Environmental Trust Group’s office at 325 Manlove St. in East Helena.

Presentations will include details on the 2014 Draft Interim Measures Work Plan; updates on the residential yard cleanups; and tips on following the Lewis and Clark County Soil Displacement and Disposal Regulations.

The open house will feature informational exhibits about groundwater cleanup efforts, redevelopment studies and other topics. In addition, the meeting presents an opportunity for the public to comment on the proposals.

“The 2014 focus is the interim cover system,” said Jay Dehner an engineer with CH2M Hill, which was hired to work on the project. “The interim measures sets it up for a final cover that will sit like a blanket over the top of it to reach our infiltration reduction goals for permanent closure of the site.”

Demolition of the 125-year-old former Asarco lead smelter has been ongoing since 2009, which is when the three smokestacks were blasted to the ground. In 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency oversaw the demolition of 24 buildings, including the circus-like green and peach Barnum and Bailey buildings and the six-story concrete ore storage building. Pulverized rubble fills their footprints, which are being covered by layers of clay and soil, and eventually will have a thicker permanent earthen cap with native grasses on top of it.

Prickly Pear Creek also was diverted into a temporary man-made channel, in order to route it away from the 14-million-ton slag pile and to make way for the removal of the Lower Lake and Tito Park. The Upper Lake already has been drained, and state, local and federal officials hope this work will help slow, or even stop, the off-site migration of the contaminated plumes.

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New channel for Prickly Pear Creek

Eve Byron, Excerpt from the Helena Independent Record

EAST HELENA — With the finesse of an oft-pounded pugilist, Prickly Pear Creek gracefully flowed Tuesday from one man-made creek bed into its newest channel, where it will reside until yet another bed is made for it.

The rerouting of the creek carries it away from two man-made lakes and the slag pile at the old Asarco lead smelting plant, which is the culmination of more than two years of planning and design, according to Jay Dehner, the project manager for the engineering firm CH2M Hill.

“A lot of hard work went into this day,” Dehner said as he watched the creek move through the diversion channel. “It’s a big day for the project; this was probably the hardest part of the work done in 2013.

“We started with concepts in 2011, worked through the design and permitting requirements for the creek in 2012, then excavation and construction in 2013. Now this sets us up for the realignment work.”

The three-quarter-mile-long channel is located between Prickly Pear Creek and Highway 518, south of Highway 12. Near the point of diversion, the creek ran fairly clear, with just a hint of sedimentation. Downstream in East Helena, it appeared a little more clouded, but project managers say that was expected and should clear within a few days.

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Changing channels

by Eve Byron, Excerpt from Independent Record

Plans to protect groundwater in East Helena involve building temporary bypass for Prickly Pear, removing Lower Lake dam

EAST HELENA — Betsy Burns and her crew have had a busy summer at the former Asarco plant site, and it will be topped off this week with the rerouting of Prickly Pear Creek into a temporary diversion ditch.

Burns, a project manager for the Environmental Protection Agency, and Mark Rhodes, a construction manager for the Montana Environmental Trust Group, on Tuesday stood near the top of the 14-ton slag pile that separates East Helena from the view of the former lead-smelting site. As they surveyed the scene below them, the two discussed how a century of industrial activities is slowly and methodically being wiped off the face of the earth here.

“It’s been a really good summer,” Burns said with a broad smile. “It took us a while to get to this point, but now what we have going is pretty exciting to see.”

Demolition of the 125-year-old former Asarco lead smelter has been ongoing since 2009, which is when the three smokestacks were blasted to the ground. This year has brought additional significant changes with two of the largest buildings — the circuslike green and peach Barnum and Bailey buildings and the six-story concrete ore storage building — being torn down. Today, pulverized rubble fills their footprints, which are being covered by layers of clay and soil as part of the Phase One demolition effort. The only structures left are the bath house and wastewater plant, which are still being used, and the cisterns from the former acid plant.

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Burned Asarco house to be used for bomb, fire training

Eve Byron, Excerpt from the Helena Independent Record

A Lewis and Clark County bomb squad will use what’s left of the former Asarco manager’s house in East Helena for a training exercise next week.

The bombings will be followed by a “live fire” exercise for the city of East Helena Volunteer Fire Department, which will reduce any of the remaining structures to ash by May 11.

Sheriff Leo Dutton said both the blasts and burns will provide great hands-on training.

“This is a unique practice opportunity,” Dutton said. “It’s kind of sad to see it all come to an end out there, but hopefully it will end up a cleaner and safer place.”

The manager’s house, which was a historic Victorian-era mansion, sat in the shadow of the Asarco slag pile. It was owned by the Montana Environmental Trust, which took title to it as part of the bankruptcy settlement with Asarco after it closed the century-old lead smelter in 2001. Working in conjunction with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the trust is tasked with management, cleaning up and possible redevelopment of the former Asarco property to benefit Montana and the United States.

Initially, the trust planned to relocate the manager’s house as part of the site cleanup, with the hope that a community group would restore and preserve the once-elegant home. However, last August downed powerlines were fanned by high winds near the 124-year-old home and burned most of the home to the ground.

However, a guesthouse, two garages, an outhouse and a shed remained standing, and those will be used for the training.

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