June 13, 2008

County Official Challenges Resources Funding Plan

By Justin Post, The Montana Standard, Butte

Jun. 13--Butte officials are rallying the community to attend a Thursday public hearing on a proposed spending structure for a major restoration fund.

Planning director Jon Sesso said he takes issue with the state's proposed Draft Conceptual Framework for an Upper Clark Fork River Basin Restoration Priorities Road Map.

The plan calls for more than $100 million to be divided into three categories, with 60 percent for restoration of priority resources, 35 percent for a grants program and 5 percent for contingency spending.

The priority resources money would be further allocated based on the lawsuit claim amounts, with 36 percent set aside for groundwater projects, 39 percent for fishery projects and 25 percent to be dedicated for wildlife projects.

Butte-Silver Bow and Anaconda-Deer Lodge counties would implement the groundwater projects and the state would implement fish and wildlife projects.

Sesso argues the funding structure doesn't take into account the location and severity of the original mining injuries to Butte and Anaconda.

"Let's stay focused on where the damages occurred," Sesso said. "Don't forget about the location, the original injuries and the severity when you start spending any money." The Butte-Silver Bow Council of Commissioners is expected to submit a letter outlining its support of Sesso's proposal.

Sesso also wants the roughly $55 million anticipated to be left over from the ongoing Silver Bow Creek restoration project to stay local.

Natural Resource Damage Program staff has recommended putting that cash back into the general fund for restoration projects throughout the Clark Fork River basin.

Sesso believes the upcoming public hearings (see breakout) are an important opportunity for the community and its elected officials to speak.

The state's proposal is subject to a 60-day public comment period ending Aug. 15.

Both the advisory and trustee councils will consider the public comments before making a final recommendation to the governor on a new restoration funding framework.

The governor will make a final decision by the end of the year.

-- Reporter Justin Post may be reached via e-mail at [email protected]

Public hearings in local area Public hearings are planned in Butte, Anaconda and Deer Lodge on a proposed spending structure for a major restoration fund. They are: -- 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the War Bonnet Inn, 2100 Cornell Ave., Butte -- 6 p.m. Thursday, June 26, at the Hearst Free Library, 401 Main St., Anaconda -- 6:30 p.m. Monday, June 30 at the Community Center in Deer Lodge.

The Natural Resource Damage Program staff are also available to meet with groups about the draft proposal.

Written comments may be sent to the Natural Resource Damage Program, Box 201425, Helena, MT 59620-1425, faxed to (406) 444-0236 or e-mailed to [email protected] The deadline for comments is Aug. 15.

The document is available at www.doj.mt.gov/lands/naturalresource or by request by calling 444-0205 in Helena.

BREAKOUT NO. 2 Where the money is coming from The state of Montana sued Arco in 1983 to recover damages for injuries to natural resources caused by historic mining and smelting operations in Butte and Anaconda.

It won, and two settlements were completed in 1999 and 2005.

A third settlement proposed in early 2008 awaits court approval.

Combined, these settlements will result in a total payment to the state of more than $220 million to be used for the restoration of natural resources in the Upper Clark Fork River basin.

Damages recovered in the 1999 settlement created the basin's Restoration Fund, and the draft plan out for public comment proposes a new spending structure.

Damages from the other two settlements are specifically earmarked for restoration at the Milltown, Clark Fork River, Smelter Hill Upland and Butte Area One sites. A majority of the basin's Restoration Fund would be spent over the next 15 to 20 years, said Carol Fox, restoration program chief with the Natural Resource Damage Program.


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