When the champagne comes out, you know something important is about to happen. And in addition to the champagne hauled out Aug. 2, a slew of important officials showed up to drink it after announcing a final agreement on restoration terms for the Milltown Reservoir area. Gov. Brian Schweitzer, Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Chairman Fred Matt, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Montana Director John Wardell and two high-ups in the U.S. Department of Justice and the EPA gathered before the Milltown Dam, each standing in turn and combining the words “thank you,” “historic occasion” and “extraordinary” in a slightly different way.
There’s a reason those words came up again and again: The $100 million removal of the Milltown Dam and cleanup of the area is “a feat that has never been accomplished in the U.S. at this magnitude before,” McGrath said.
The $100 million price tag for the project breaks down like this: The vast majority will be paid by the Atlanta Richfield Co. (Arco), with $11.4 million to be paid by NorthWestern Energy Co., which owns the dam, and $7.6 million paid by the state. The state will also acquire about 500 acres of land and water rights at the Milltown site now owned by NorthWestern. McGrath said the state’s share of the cost will be drawn from a 1998 settlement with Arco for contamination of the Upper Clark Fork River. The public has a 30-day comment period before the agreement is officially official, and a meeting at the Bonner School Gym on Aug. 16 at 6:30 p.m. will further outline details of the project.
The cleanup entails removal of more than 2 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment that has flowed downstream from mining operations in Butte and Anaconda over the last century. The dam, built in 1907, will be removed in 2007 according to the best-case-scenario timeline. Planning and design will finish up this year, while other preliminary steps will begin early 2006. By 2009, we could have, in Schweitzer’s words, “a river that will tie together the community of Montana in a new way.”