Butte, Montana

A ribbon cutting ceremony was held on Thursday, September 7, 2023 behind the Butte Civic Center on the newly paved Civic Center Road to celebrate the completion of the Parrot Tailings Waste Removal Project. Butte is known as the “Mining City” and Anaconda as the “Smelter City” by locals and visitors alike. However, many people are unaware that the Mining City of Butte also had many smelting operations in the area, specifically the Parrot Smelter located behind the Civic Center.

After years of smelting copper in the middle of Butte, soil and groundwater along the Silver Bow Creek corridor were contaminated with highly toxic metals like arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, and zinc. The removal of these contaminants was a long fight for the residents of Butte-Silver Bow (BSB) and took the dedication of many individuals and groups to get to completion.

“We knew we were going to need partners to get this done. When we put that (the project) out there, we wondered, ‘Who is going to partner with us on this?’ It was a little bit of a pipedream, but we were all passionate about it.”

The pipedream soon became reality, when in 2015, Pat Cunneen, environmental scientist, with Natural Resource Damage Program (NRDP), along with Elizabeth Erickson, toured the site with then Gov. Steve Bullock and convinced him that the project needed to be done. Governor Bullock, as the NRD fund trustee, authorized the use of restoration funds and design work began shortly thereafter. The first phase of the project began in 2018 with tailings hauled to a safe containment site at Montana Resources without using city streets.  The BSB County Shops were then demolished and rebuilt at a new site to enable the second phase of waste removal which was completed from 2021 to 2023.

Fast forward five years, and the daunting task of removing over 550,000 cubic yards of mine waste, 100,000 cubic yards of slag and 33 million gallons of toxic water from the headwaters of the Clark Fork River basin is complete. In addition to waste removal activities, the site was restored for BSB.  It was backfilled with clean material and graded to provide expanded Civic Center parking and two large development parcels.

“A lot of WET folks had both small and large hands in getting this project done, and monitoring activities will continue over the next several years to track progress.  Completing a project like this in your hometown feels pretty darn good. We hope this project provides a blueprint for future remedy projects downstream.”

Learn more about WET’s role in this project!