Since rivers don’t heed county lines, it seems odd that the Missoula and Anaconda-Deerlodge county commissions never sat down together to discuss the Clark Fork River woes now being redressed after a century of mining.
But odd or otherwise, it wasn’t until Jan. 10, when the commissions met jointly to hash out distribution of a $5 million chunk of redevelopment money, that channels of communication began flowing freely. Last year, Sen. Max Baucus secured the funding for development of parks and trails in the two counties, but the federal Highway Bill’s language didn’t specify who should get what. On Jan. 10, the commissioners agreed to split the pot and support each other’s future efforts to secure more funding.
Though the counties have always been linked by the river, the decision to remove the Milltown Dam and 2.1 million cubic yards of toxic sediments built up behind it has recently brought the counties closer, since the sediments are bound for a waste repository adjacent to the small town of Opportunity, near Anaconda.
Deerlodge County Commissioner Connie Daniels and the Opportunity Citizens Protection Association, in particular, have advocated that Opportunity receive something positive from the whole deal, and they say $2.5 million is a major step.
Their first priority is a community park in Opportunity, and OCPA and the county are working to transform the abandoned Beaverdam School into a 13-acre park and trailhead.
In Missoula, the Milltown Superfund Site Redevelopment Working Group has crafted a $14.1 million redevelopment plan and will focus first on connecting the Milltown area with the Kim Williams Trail and replacing a pedestrian bridge in Bonner. Both counties say they’ll seek out additional funding in the months and years to come.
“It’s really heartening to see this recognition that we’re all part of the same watershed,” says Tracy Stone-Manning, a member of the Milltown working group and director of the Clark Fork Coalition. “Yes, we have local political boundaries, but the fact that we can rise above that and look at the needs of the whole watershed is really hopeful for the future.”