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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Structure demolition resumes at former Asarco lead smelter site

by Eve Byron, Excerpt from Independent Record, reprinted in Billings Gazette

EAST HELENA — Say so long to the Ore Storage and “Barnum and Bailey” buildings at the old Asarco lead smelter site.

This week, crews started dismantling the imposing gray structure, which was built in 1990 to house metal-bearing ore prior to the smelting process. Cindy Brooks, head of the Montana Environmental Custodial Trust, which is responsible for the cleanup effort, estimated that the Ore Storage building is six stories high and larger than a football field.

Whenever there’s a break in that action, crews with Envirocon, a Missoula-based demolition firm, with turn their attention to the two bright green-and-peach-colored canvas buildings named for their resemblance to circus tents, added Mark Rhodes, an engineer with Hydrometrics.

“Right now they’re working inside of the Ore Storage building, getting the interior structures taken down,” Rhodes said. “They’re also drilling holes on the floors so that when you put the final cap on it, the water doesn’t pond; instead it goes into the ground.”

Once the inside work at the Ore Storage building is complete, Envirocon will use an excavator to start taking bites out of the top of the pre-cast concrete structure. The plan calls for turning the concrete into rubble while removing any rebar for recycling. The rubble will then be used as fill over the Ore Storage’s footprint.

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Editorial: New era in cleanup commendable

By Independent Record – An IR View | Posted: Tuesday, November 23, 2010

One look at year-over-year maps showing the underground arsenic and selenium plumes emanating from the old Asarco site in East Helena are enough to give residents, let alone environmental officials in charge of the cleanup, a great deal of pause.

Individual maps dating back a few years show “fingered” plumes reaching out toward the valley like a hand from the Asarco site. Stacked together, the maps collectively make it look like the elevated levels of arsenic and selenium are expanding, and quickly.

But looks can be deceiving, and the truth is as opaque as the big pile of black slag sitting there at the site of the former lead smelter.

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Groundwater Investigation: Elusive elements

By EVE BYRON Independent Record | Posted: Sunday, November 21

As the yard removal portion of the Asarco cleanup effort in East Helena is winding down, work on dealing with the arsenic and selenium plumes is just gearing up.

While the Environmental Protection Agency has known for a decade that the underground arsenic plume is flowing from the former lead-smelting plant toward one of East Helena’s city water wells and individual wells in the Helena valley, it hasn’t come up with a solution for dealing with it. Muddying the arsenic-plume situation was the discovery in 2006 of a plume of selenium in the groundwater that’s moving in the same general direction.

Asarco led the plume monitoring and analyzing effort in conjunction with the EPA, with thousands of water samples analyzed. But now that Asarco no longer is in the picture due to a year-old bankruptcy agreement, the EPA and the newly formed Montana Environmental Custodial Trust have brought in a trio of new faces to figure out what’s been done in the past, where data is missing, and how to move forward with a permanent solution that will protect the community’s health.

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Former Company Housing Demolition: ASARCO homes to be demolished

By EVE BYRON Independent Record | Posted: Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Former Asarco-owned residences in East Helena are being demolished as part of the ongoing cleanup effort.

As soon as NorthWestern Energy cuts all power to the homes on South Montana Avenue, adjacent to the former lead smelter site, all but one of the eight structures there will be torn down, according to Cindy Brooks, who heads the Montana Environmental Custodial Trust. The trust was created to hold on to Asarco’s Montana properties until they’re sold under a settlement agreement with the bankrupt company.

The former Asarco manager’s house, built in 1888, may be eligible for listing on the National Registry of Historic Places and might be restored as some type of museum or community center.

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