EPA celebrates reuse success with groundbreaking of East Helena High School

Partnership transforms another portion of Superfund site

Groundbreaking ceremony for the future East Helena High School. The school is slated to open to students in 2020. Photo courtesy of EPA

Contact Information:
Richard Mylott (mylott.richard@epa.gov)

DENVER — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) celebrated a milestone achievement with the East Helena Public Schools and other agencies and organizations at a ground-breaking ceremony at the future location of the East Helena High School at 2760 Valley Drive in East Helena, Montana yesterday.

The East Helena Public Schools (EHPS) high school will welcome an anticipated 500-600 students. The opening ceremony was held yesterday, Monday, March 18, 2019 at 5:30 p.m. East Helena officials plan to open the $29.5 million school to students in 2020.

“The opening of the East Helena High School exemplifies what can be achieved when communities come together to focus on Superfund site reuse,” said EPA Assistant Regional Administrator Betsy Smidinger.  “Today, we celebrate a partnership that has made a shared vision a reality.”

EPA, EHPS, the Montana Environmental Trust Group LLC (METG), and the State of Montana worked with community residents to identify ways to reuse property that is protective of public health and the environment.METG, as trustee of the Montana Environmental Custodial Trust, sold 35 acres at the East Helena Superfund site to EHPS for the new high school in November 2018.

“METG’s diligence, commitment and thoughtful approach to remediating and redeveloping the former ASARCO lands have helped transform the community of East Helena,” said East Helena School Superintendent Ron Whitmoyer. “Together, METG and EPA have made a lasting contribution to the EHPS mission to create an educational experience for our students that is designed to cultivate an appreciation of learning, a sense of self-worth and mutual respect for their world and each other.”

In 2011, EPA hosted a redevelopment planning design charrette to gather and synthesize ideas from a broad group of stakeholders — including the State of Montana, the Montana Environmental Trust Group, LLC, local government representatives, and residents — to determine how 2,000 acres of property at the East Helena Superfund site might be redeveloped. The group met regularly throughout the cleanup to share information, provide feedback and consider future potential uses for the former ASARCO property.

 “EPA has enjoyed a very cooperative and collaborative relationship with METG and essentially everyone involved,” said Betsy Burns, EPA’s project manager for the site.

As part of cleanup activity at the East Helena Superfund site, the Custodial Trust designed and implemented interim measures that were approved by EPA to address contaminated soils and groundwater at and from the site. EPA and the Trust worked with local government agencies to implement land and groundwater use controls to ensure the protectiveness of the soil remedy, limit groundwater use and protect residents from exposure to contamination.

The East Helena site was added to EPA’s National Priorities List as a Superfund site in 1984.

Read entire press release on the EPA website here.

Montana Environmental Trust Group’s Creek Relocation Project Wins 2019 Engineering Excellence Award

EAST HELENA, MT – Montana Environmental Trust Group, LLC, Trustee of the Montana Environmental Custodial Trust, and its contractor Pioneer Technical Services received a 2019 American Council of Engineering Companies of Montana Engineering Excellence Award for the Prickly Pear Creek realignment in East Helena.

Montana Environmental Trust Group’s (METG) Prickly Pear Creek relocation project won the 2019 Environmental Category Honor Award from the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) of Montana. METG teamed with Pioneer Technical Services to realign more than a mile of Prickly Pear Creek in order to reduce water contact with soil contaminants and their potential migration.

The project protects human health and the environment permanently by reducing groundwater contamination and isolating the eroding slag pile on the East Helena site without need for future pumping or maintenance. The work has established a natural-functioning stream, created an enhanced habitat for fish and wildlife, and mitigated flooding for flood-prone areas of East Helena.

METG is the court-appointed trustee of the Montana Environmental Custodial Trust, which was established in 2009 as part of the Asarco bankruptcy settlement. METG is responsible for owning, remediating and redeveloping thousands of acres once owned by Asarco. For eight years, METG has worked to address contamination in soils, sediments and groundwater left behind by more than a century of lead smelting.

The Prickly Pear Creek realignment is a cornerstone of METG’s remediation and restoration efforts in East Helena. The creek realignment was completed in four main phases of work. First, a bypass channel was created to temporarily divert the creek flow. The next phase included drainage and excavation of the creek, followed by reconstruction of the new creek bed and building an earth berm to stabilize the nearby eroding slag pile. Prickly Pear Creek flow was then diverted to the new creek bed. Lastly, the wetlands were reconstructed and the bypass channel was reclaimed.

METG’s Prickly Pear Creek project and other winners of the ACEC-Montana 2019 Engineering Excellence Awards were honored at the Montana Engineering Honors Banquet held in conjunction with the Joint Engineers Conference on Nov. 7, 2018.


For more information, photos, and videos, visit the METG website at mtenvironmentaltrust.org.


Notice & Invitation: East Helena Smelter Site Public Meeting & Open House

Notice & Invitation

East Helena Smelter Site Public Meeting & Open House
Offices of the Montana Environmental Trust Group (METG)
325 Manlove Street, East Helena, MT 59635
Wednesday, April 11, 2018, 6:30 to 8:30 pm

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Montana Environmental Trust Group (METG), Trustee of the Montana Environmental Custodial Trust, are sponsoring a Public Meeting and Open House on Wednesday, April 11, 2018 from 6:30 to 8:30 pm. Representatives from EPA and METG will review the draft Corrective Measures Study Report (the CMS Report) for the East Helena Smelter Site. The CMS Report, prepared by METG, describes the remedial action alternatives for addressing contamination in soil, groundwater, surface water and sediments from the former ASARCO Smelter in East Helena. The meeting will provide the public with an important opportunity to learn about and comment on the CMS Report. The open house will feature informational exhibits about cleanup, redevelopment and community programs and activities.

The CMS Report will be available to the public for review and comment after Wednesday, March 28, 2018. To download a copy of the CMS Report, view this page. Copies of the CMS Report can also be viewed at the East Helena Branch of the Lewis & Clark County Library (16 East Main Street, East Helena) and the East Helena City Hall (306 East Main Street, Room 201, East Helena). Comments on the CMS Report may be provided orally at the public meeting or submitted in writing to the EPA Project Manager, Betsy Burns, by email (to burns.betsy@epa.gov) or by regular mail (to EPA Region 8 Montana Office, 10 W. 15th St., Suite 3200; Helena, MT 59626). The public comment period for the CMS Report ends on Tuesday, May 29, 2018 at 5:00 p.m. MDT.

Please join us on Wednesday, April 11th at the Montana Environmental Trust Group (METG) Offices 325 Manlove Street, East Helena, Montana.

Directions to METG Offices:

Manlove Avenue is near the former Asarco Smelter. It is south of Highway 12 and parallels the Highway and the railroad tracks. Manlove Street intersects Highway 282 and is across from American Chemet.

  • From Helena, take Highway 12 east. Make a right onto Highway 282 (at the traffic light). Make a right onto Manlove Street, which is the first street on the right.
  • From Townsend, take Highway 12 west. Make a left onto Highway 282 (at the traffic light). Make a right onto Manlove Street, which is the first street on the right.
  • From Montana City, take Highway 282 north past the Asarco Smelter on the right and the Rodeo Grounds on the left. Make a left onto Manlove Street, which is the last street before Highway 12.

Look for the green modular building with the METG logo on the left!

Refreshments Will Be Served!

Visible Progress on Cleanup of the Former Asarco Smelter – Prickly Pear Creek Bypass Channel

The Montana Environmental Trust Group (METG), Trustee of the Montana Environmental Custodial Trust, is moving forward with cleanup of the former Asarco smelter.  METG’s progress is visible on the west side of Highway 518 in East Helena where construction workers can be seen operating excavators, cranes, trucks and other heavy equipment.  Work underway on the so-called “East Bench” – the area between Prickly Pear Creek (PPC) and Highway 518 south of Highway 12 – is one part of a series of inter-related, EPA-approved cleanup plans (called Interim Measures or IMs).  These IMs are designed to reduce the offsite migration of contaminants in groundwater resulting from more than a century of smelting activities at the former Asarco facility.

Contaminated soils in direct contact with groundwater beneath the smelter site contribute to the contaminant plumes migrating off-site.  Because it is not technically or financially possible to remove all the waste that is contaminating groundwater, the cleanup plans focus on “getting the waste out of the water.”  Surface water from PPC and the manmade Upper and Lower Lakes raises groundwater levels in the south plant area, which increases the loading of contaminants to groundwater and pushes plumes of contamination offsite.  The cleanup plan is designed to reduce surface water recharge from Upper Lake, Lower Lake and PPC to groundwater at the south end of the site and is referred to as the “South Plant Hydraulic Control (SPHC) Interim Measure (or SPHC IM).”  To lower groundwater levels and reduce this recharge from the south plant area, SPHC IM entails draining the water from the lakes and realigning PPC to the east away from the south plant area.

East Bench construction activities are paving the way for realignment of PPC, which is the centerpiece of the SPHC IM.  Beginning in May, utilities were moved from the area where the realigned PPC will be constructed.  Working with NorthWestern Energy and CenturyLink, existing power distribution lines and telecommunications cables were moved to a utility corridor along Highway 518.  Partnering with the City of East Helena, METG also installed a new City waterline to replace the existing East Bench waterline.  At the City’s request, METG upgraded the waterline to allow the City to improve and expand its water service.

METG began construction of the PPC Temporary Bypass Channel in early July.  The purpose of this channel is to temporarily divert PPC flows away from the south plant area to drain water from Upper and Lower Lakes.  The PPC Temporary Bypass Channel consists of a low flow channel and a larger floodplain channel.  Material excavated from the PPC Temporary Bypass Channel will eventually be used as part of a capping system to be installed on the former smelter property.  After Upper and Lower Lakes are dry, the Upper Lake berm and diversion structure will be removed.  With the Temporary Bypass Channel in operation, the realigned PPC can be constructed, PPC flows can be directed into the realigned PPC and Smelter Dam can be removed.  (Smelter Dam and other PPC structures, which have not been maintained, could fail and potentially cause downstream flooding.)  The PPC Temporary Bypass Channel may be retained as an overflow channel while the realigned PPC stabilizes in the new creek bed after which the channel can be reclaimed and integrated into the PPC realignment.  The PPC Temporary Bypass Channel is slated to be operational this fall.  Remaining work on the creek will be implemented in the next two to three years.

Implementation of SPHC IM, including PPC realignment, will significantly reduce the loading of contaminants to groundwater.  Realignment of PPC will also create numerous other benefits, including: reduced erosion of slag into PPC; increased flood storage; enhanced creek habitat; and elimination of the major impediment to fish passage on PPC by removal of Smelter Dam.  Construction of the PPC Temporary Bypass Channel represents a critical first step in the realizing these important environmental and community events.

For more information please contact Cindy Brooks, Director of Remediation and Redevelopment for the Montana Environmental Custodial Trust, by email at cb@g-etg.com or by telephone at 617-448-9762.

Real Life Training in East Helena

Download this press release as a PDF

EAST HELENA, MONTANA—The last vestiges of the former Asarco Manager’s House in East Helena will end with a controlled blast and burn. Beginning on April 29, the Lewis & Clark County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) Bomb Squad and the City of East Helena Volunteer Fire Department will be conducting live training exercises using the outbuildings remaining on the site of the former Asarco Manager’s House in East Helena. LCSO Bomb Squad personnel will conduct controlled explosive breaching of doors and windows on the buildings. Following the County’s exercises, the City of East Helena Fire Department will perform “live fire” training with all buildings reduced by fire by May 11. According to Deputy Sheriff Cornish, Commander of the LCSO Bomb Squad, “This type of hands on training provides an invaluable opportunity for improving the readiness of our Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) personnel in responding to high risk situations, such as those involving hostages, armed stand-­‐‑offs and other types of incidents.” Fire Chief Golemon also emphasized the importance of such hands-­‐‑on experience. “Real-­‐‑life training allows us to provide the highest level of service to our community and ensure the safety of our firefighters. It’s not often that owners will allow emergency response personnel to practice blowing up and burning down their buildings. We are very grateful to the Montana Environmental Custodial Trust, the owner, for supporting these critical training exercises.”

The buildings—a guesthouse, two garages, a privy and a shed—are located on the site of the historic former Asarco Manager’s House, which was totally lost to fire in August of 2012. The Montana Environmental Custodial Trust, the Trustee that assumed responsibility for cleanup of the former Asarco smelter, is donating the buildings to the County and the City of East Helena for the training exercises. Originally, the Montana Custodial Trust planned to relocate the historic Manager’s House as part of Site cleanup, hoping that a non-­‐‑profit or other community group would be able to restore and preserve the once elegant home. However, those plans changed late last summer when fire completely destroyed the circa 1888 structure. Sadly, the remaining outbuildings—also damaged by the fire—lost their historic significance with the loss of the house and were therefore slated for demolition and removal. According to Cindy Brooks, who heads the Montana Custodial Trust, “When County and the City asked to use the structures for live training exercises, we saw an opportunity to give something of value to the community after all.” Betsy Burns, East Helena project manager for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Lead Agency overseeing cleanup of the former Asarco smelter, admitted that, “At first, EPA was a little nervous about allowing this type of activity on the Site; however, Deputy Sheriff Cornish, Fire Chief Golemon and their teams are seasoned professionals and EPA is confident that the training activities will be performed safely. Ultimately, the City and County’s ability to respond to emergency situations will contribute to overall community safety here in East Helena and throughout Lewis & Clark County.”

The City of East Helena Volunteer Fire Department is constantly training fire personnel in the most current, effective fire fighting techniques and looking for opportunities to test those skills in real life situations that are not actual emergencies. According to Fire Chief Golemon, “This type of training offers our firefighters the opportunity to deal with ‘live fire’ situations and suppress fires under controlled conditions and close supervision. Our firefighters get to improve their understanding of how fires behave, which allows them to respond to real emergencies with the added confidence that comes from hands on experience. There is no substitute for this type of training and we truly appreciate the support of EPA, the Montana Custodial Trust and the community with these activities.”

Deputy Sheriff Chris Cornish advised that, “Folks in the area may hear the sound of explosions, but there is no need for alarm. All explosive breaching activities will be performed with extensive provisions for personnel safety and control.” Cornish and Golemon both emphasized that, for safety reasons, access to the area will be strictly controlled and cautioned members of the public not to congregate on nearby roads to watch the training exercises.

The Montana Custodial Trust assumed ownership, management, cleanup and redevelopment responsibility for the Asarco sites in Montana, including the former East Helena smelter, when the Asarco bankruptcy was settled in December of 2009. The Montana Trust is cleaning up the East Helena site under the oversight of EPA as Lead Agency. Other Montana Trust sites include former Asarco mines in Lincoln, Phillipsburg and Superior. The United States and the State of Montana are the beneficiaries of the Montana Trust.

Coming Down: Demolition of Former ASARCO Smelter in East Helena begins on April 8th, 2013

Download this press release as a PDF

EAST HELENA, MONTANA— Residents and commuters driving on State Highway 12 or Smelter Road near the American Chemet facility should take one last look at the former Asarco Ore Storage and Handling Building (OSHB). That’s because the massive pre-cast concrete structure—bigger than a football field and more than six stories high—is coming down. “Barring weather delays, demolition of the OSHB is slated to begin on April 8th,” according to Cindy Brooks, head of the Montana Environmental Custodial Trust, the Trustee that assumed responsibility for cleanup of the Asarco 2009. Under oversight of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Montana Trust is poised to begin construction of several measures designed to address groundwater and soil contamination resulting from a century of smelting operations. In the coming weeks, the Montana Trust also plans to remove other buildings near the OSHB, including the two green-and-yellow fabric structures—dubbed the “Barnham and Bailey” buildings because they resemble large circus tents. EPA and the Montana Trust are seeking to recycle and salvage as much material as possible from the planned demolition activities.

According to Betsy Burns, EPA Cleanup Manager for East Helena, “It’s gratifying to see demolition move forward after several years of planning and studies. This work represents an important step in the clean up the former Asarco smelter.” EPA and the Montana Trust hope to remove the remaining on-site structures by the end of next year, leaving the 14-million ton slag pile as one of the last visible remnants of the Asarco smelter. Burns also advised that, “Folks may see construction on the western side of State Highway 518 just east of Prickly Pear Creek where power, telephone and water lines will be relocated to make way for construction of the temporary bypass channel for the section of the creek below smelter dam.” The Montana Trust has been working closely with the City of East Helena, NorthWestern Energy and Century Link on these utility projects.

The OSHB is the largest and newest building on the smelter property. In its heyday, the Asarco smelter produced lead bullion from diverse concentrates and ores from mines and facilities all over the world. In 1988 alone, Asarco received more than 200,000 tons of such raw materials—delivered by rail or truck, offloaded, stored in piles and then blended and mixed with fluxes to render them suitable for smelting. Before the OSHB was constructed in 1990, these operations took place in the outdoor storage yard or in a small, unventilated building, which generated significant, uncontrolled dust. The OSHB was designed to enclose and ventilate these operations in order to control dust emissions. The useful life of this behemoth structure was cut short after little more than a decade, when the smelter was shutdown in 2001.

The Montana Trust assumed ownership, management, cleanup and redevelopment responsibility for the ASARCO sites in Montana, including the former East Helena smelter, when the ASARCO bankruptcy was settled in December of 2009. The Montana Trust is cleaning up the East Helena site under the oversight of EPA as Lead Agency. Other Montana Trust sites include former ASARCO mines in Lincoln, Phillipsburg and Superior. The United States and the State of Montana are the beneficiaries of the Montana Trust.

News Advisory: Former ASARCO Manager’s House

On Friday, August 24, the former ASARCO manager’s house in East Helena was totally lost to fire.  More than eighty fire fighters responded to a grass fire near the house that, according to officials, was started by a downed power line and aggravated by high winds.

For more information, download the EPA-METG News Advisory – Asarco Manager’s House.

Request For Proposals for Redevelopment Plans & Studies

Notice: Please be advised that the deadline for submission of responses to the Request for Proposals for Redevelopment Plans & Studies, East Helena, MT has been extended to July 11 at 5:00 pm Mountain Time. Responses should be submitted electronically to Cynthia Brooks at cb@g-etg.com with a copy to Maggie Dolan at md@g-etg.com.

Request For Proposals for Redevelopment Plans & Studies, Former ASARCO Smelter, East Helena, Montana, Issued by the Montana Environmental Trust Group, LLC, Trustee of the Montana Environmental Custodial Trust, June 8, 2011.

We’ve created a Q&A page for the Redevelopment RFP. Click to learn more

Positions Available: Water Treatment Plant Operator and Mechanic, Lincoln, Montana

The Montana Environmental Trust Group (METG), Trustee to the Montana Environmental Custodial Trust, is accepting applications for both a water treatment plant operator and a mechanic near Lincoln, MT. Compensation is from $15 to $22 per hour depending upon experience.

Download the job listings as PDFs:

Request for Qualification (RFQ): Environmental Engineering Consulting Services

METG is requesting Statements of Qualifications (SOQs) from environmental engineering companies who are interested in upcoming site investigation, cleanup, and demolition work at the East Helena site.  METG is seeking consulting services for the following areas of expertise:

  • Stormwater Engineering
  • Wastewater Engineering
  • Solid Waste Engineering
  • Utility Engineering
  • Remedial Investigation (soil and groundwater) and Remedy Design (groundwater)
  • Natural Resource Planning, Permitting, and Restoration

The SOQs should include information about the consulting company or teaming arrangement, demonstrate an understanding of the project needs and environmental conditions, identify a project manager who will be based in the Helena area, identify support resources (including location) and areas of expertise, provide representative project descriptions, and a minimum of three project client references with contact information. Do not submit pricing information at this time.

The SOQs must be received (electronic only) no later than December 31, 2010 to be considered for inclusion in an upcoming request for proposal (RFP) anticipated in January 2011. Please send SOQ information to av@mtenvironmentaltrust.org.