EAST HELENA — The Environmental Protection Agency honored stakeholders in the East Helena smelter cleanup with an award on Thursday.
EPA Region 8 Administrator Greg Sopkin presented the Montana Environmental Trust Group with the Excellence in Site Reuse Award for their efforts to promote redevelopment in East Helena.
The award is given to groups to “recognize significant achievement in protection of public health or the environment, or in advancing the Agency’s strategic goals.”
According to the EPA, since clean-up efforts began at the site of the former lead smelter, contamination in groundwater has been reduced, stormwater cleanly runs off of a massive protective cover and Prickly Pear Creek flows through a restored channel.
Thursday’s ceremony took place at the newly-constructed Prickly Pear Elementary School, a project that leaders say was made possible because of those cleanup efforts.
METG Managing Principal Cindy Brooks said she was honored to receive the award and that the EPA has been a big champion of the project from the beginning.
According to Brooks, one of the biggest challenges has been getting others to believe in the mission of METG, which focuses on cleaning up soil and groundwater contamination caused by the former ASARCO smelting facility.
“Part of that is sort of converting the disbelievers. If you build it, they will come. And that’s what we’re seeing here,” Brooks said.
Sopkin also pointed to housing developments in East Helena and the construction of a new high school as evidence of the success of cleanup work.
“When you look around, it’s all coming together now into a beautiful community and a beautiful development,” Sopkin said.
The EPA also recognized several other groups for their work to promote redevelopment in East Helena.
· The United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Montana Department of Environmental Quality and Montana Department of Justice Natural Resource Damage Program
· Lewis & Clark County, Environmental Health Services Division Lead Education and Assistance Program and Water Quality Protection District
· City of East Helena, Mayor James Schell
· East Helena Public Schools, Ron Whitmoyer
· Prickly Pear Land Trust, Mary Hollow