East Helena, Montana has a lot to celebrate: creek restoration, new trail system and cleanup of toxic historic smelter site

On November 4, 2019, Montana Governor Steve Bullock—along with community and state leaders—held a signing ceremony for the final Natural Resource Damage Program (NRDP) East Helena Restoration Plan.

The City looks forward to the opening of a beautifully restored area along Prickly Pear Creek to public access for recreation, fishing, and a new trail system that will no doubt assist with economic development in East Helena,” said City of East Helena Mayor James Schell.

The plan allocates $5 million for the construction of the Greenway trail system and priority water infrastructure projects in the East Helena community. Additionally, Governor Bullock joined the community in celebrating progress made in the cleanup, remediation and restoration of the former American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO) smelter site.

The cleanup and restoration of the East Helena smelter site is a leading example for how communities in our state can address legacy impacts and chart a vision for their future,” said Governor Bullock. “Today we continue to build on this work by ensuring that a new generation of kids growing up here can have an environment safe to live and play in, and access to clean drinking water and open spaces that together will help the community thrive moving forward.

In addition to a settlement reached with ASARCO in 2009, which provided $138 million and land holdings to support remedial needs across ASARCO’s Montana sites, $5 million was paid directly to the State of Montana for its restoration damage claims at the East Helena site.

The final NRDP restoration plan includes:

  • $3.2 million to further the development of the Greenway trail system for the community of East Helena and Lewis and Clark County in partnership with the Prickly Pear Land Trust. The trail system will connect the remediated smelter site, communities along Prickly Pear Creek and to nearby trails;
  • $2.1 million to meet the priority water infrastructure needs of the City of East Helena. This amount will support the City’s 2018 Water Master Plan. This amount is augmented by recent commitments made by the Montana Environmental Trust Group, the state’s Treasure Endowment Program, and Renewable Resource Grants and Loan Program, which together total an additional $2.8 million that can be used to address the City’s needs; and,
  • $160,000 for additional watershed and habitat improvements along the Prickly Pear Creek corridor and floodplain.

In partnership with the State of Montana, the City of East Helena, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Montana Environmental Trust have made significant progress in the cleanup, remediation and restoration of the former East Helena ASARCO smelter site.

Prickly Pear Land Trust has a long history of partnering with communities on public land, trail, and water projects like this,” said Mary Hollow, Executive Director of the Prickly Pear Land Trust. “We are thrilled for the great connections to land and water that will come for the people of East Helena and the surrounding region as a result of this funding.”

The former smelter has been demolished, and contaminated soils and materials have been consolidated and covered with a 62-acre protective layer to prevent rain and snow water from seeping through and contaminating groundwater.

Contaminated topsoil has been removed and replaced from 786 residential yards, 50 commercial properties, schools and churches, roadways and parking lots and flood zones. Additionally, the Prickly Pear Creek now flows through a new, one-and-a-half-mile long channel and reconstructed flood plain.

Historic postcard of ASARCO site by unknown.

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