Parrot tailings removal in Butte reveals high groundwater contamination

Posted at 3:35 PM, Sep 26, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-26 17:35:33-04

BUTTE – They knew the groundwater underneath Butte’s Parrot tailings was bad — but it turned out to be much worse.

“The highly contaminated groundwater is much more extensive than we had originally anticipated and the soils below the tailings are also more extensively contaminated,” said Project Manager Jim Ford with the Natural Resources Damage Council.

All the more reason the estimated $36 million project to remove a century’s worth of mine waste that has been buried under this area off of Civic Center Road. It’s a project being paid for through the Superfund settlement with the Atlantic Richfield Company when it was determined the tailings are contaminating Butte’s groundwater.

“We’re thousands of times over the drinking water standard and 100 times worse than the water in the Berkeley Pit,” Ford said.

Despite the highly elevated contamination, the project is continuing as planned.

“It doesn’t change anything, I think it does reinforce the need for the project and the governor’s decision to move forward on this project,” Ford said.

The specially-designed pipe is transferring 100 gallons per minute of this highly contaminated groundwater from the work site all the way back to Montana Resources where it will be processed.

“We’re just bringing it into what we call our dredge pond, which goes straight to tailings and it’s co-mingled in with our processed water through the mill,” said Mark Thompson of Montana Resources,

MR will also be disposing the tailings on its mill yard at their own expense.

“The project was still very important to the community, very important to our governor, and MR still looked for how we could be a player in all that. It ends up costing MR some money to handle these materials,” said Thompson.

But the company is happy to do its part in the cleanup. The first phase of the project is expected to be done by this January and the second phase, which will take place at the site of the Maintenance Shop across the street, could take until 2020 to be completed.

Reporting by John Emeigh for MTN News