Proposed Plan for Butte Priority Soils Released by EPA

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On April 11th, the EPA released the proposed plan for the Butte Priority Soils Operable Unit, or BPSOU as its commonly called. Superfund sites are divided up into these operable units, and the BPSOU is the unit encompassing uptown Butte. The release of the Proposed Plan is the beginning of the end of the process that started with listing in 1982 and saw the release of the Record of Decision in 2006. The Proposed Plan, and coming ROD amendments, formalize the path forward and the obligations of the responsible parties. If everything goes smoothly, this will culminate in a Consent Decree, or CD, late this year. The CD gets everyone’s agreement on the plan, the regulatory agencies, the responsible parties, and the impacted community.

There is one entity that straddles the line between responsible party and impacted community. Butte Silver Bow is both a PRP and represents the communities in this Superfund site. When it comes time for the CD to be signed, it will require the approval BP-ARCO, Burlington-Northern and Union Pacific Railroads, and Butte Silver Bow. With the process moving fast lately, the Council of Commissioners have been doing their best to educate themselves on Superfund.

Chief Executive Palmer called a special meeting on April 10th in order for the council to hear a preview of the Proposed plan that would be officially released the next day. Nikia Greene, EPA Remedial Project Manager delivered the presentation.

NG: “Tonight, I’m going to have a focus on this Proposed Plan….Record of Decision.”

Nikia laid out the process that will be followed in the coming months, and it can be confusing. All of this builds on the original decision document for the unit, the 2006 Record of Decision. This document defined most of the remedial work that was required and many of the details of how and to what standards the cleanup would proceed. Some of those details change over time with new science, new evidence, or with lessons learned. There were changes in 2011 added to the ROD as an Explanation of Significant Difference, or ESD. This Proposed Plan constitutes another change, and if it is accepted it will be incorporated as a ROD amendment. In the end, the ROD, the ESD, and the amendments will all be rolled into the Consent Decree for final approval from everyone involved.

Nikia went on to summarize the EPA’s Proposed Plan.

NG: “Here is the Proposed planin front of you tonight you tonight…13 minor changes.”

We’ll summarize the proposed Plan here in the next few minutes, but as you can imagine, there’s a lot to it. If you want to learn more, check out for a link to the document in this story. Here’s Nikia again with some of the details:

NG: “Ok the fundamental change, Technical Impracticability…is justified.”

The difference between the Federal and State standard is in how they treat the sample, the feds filter out small particles while the state analyzes everything. The state standard is more stringent and has an added benefit of controlling sediment, for which there is no standard. But the EPA has made the argument that the state standard is impossible to meet during precipitation events, largely based on what they see as high background levels. They recently released a 5000 paged document making the case.

So, the proposal includes waving the state surfacewater standard for copper and zinc, and potentially others in the future.

Nakia went on to discuss the significant changes. These are mostly related to the plans for the Upper Silver Bow Creek corridor that we reported on last May.

NG: “Jumping into the significant changes…in stream.”

That’s work they will be doing along Blacktail creek between George street and Grove gulch.

NG: “Relocation of stream through Butte Reduction Works…contaminated ground water entering the stream.”

The changes also include the mine waste removal in the Diggins East and Northside tailings. These removals will result in the storm water controls that are required, detention ponds that will settle out contaminated sediment from the hill.

The remaining three significant changes support the waiver of surface water standards. They remove requirements from the ROD, including infiltration barriers, a flow augmentation contingency, and the requirement for a stormwater treatment facility. These were all contingencies designed to achieve the existing surface water quality standard, but with the TI waiver they have been deemed unnecessary.

The thirteen minor changes range from clarifications in the text of the ROD to some big changes for the Residential Metals Abatement Program. Most notably, the RMAP program has been expanded to most of the county, and any residents will be able to request their soil and dust be tested, and abated if necessary.

All of the major and minor changes will have an impact on Superfund, the environment, and the community, and your input is invited. Community acceptance is requirement of CDs, and there will be opportunities for the public to formally submit their comments in the coming months. There will be public meetings on April and May 23rd, at 6pm at the Montana Tech Auditorium, or you can find other ways to submit your comments at the link at our website.

I’m Dave Hutchins reporting for KBMF.