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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