Bullock Tours Clark Fork River Project - ABC FOX MONTANA NEWS, WEATHER, SPORTS - KTMF/KWYB

Bullock Tours Clark Fork River Project

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WARM SPRINGS - In 1908, a record flood washed millions of cubic yards of toxic mining sediment along the flood plain of the Clark Fork River, from Butte to the Milltown Dam near Missoula.

Now, One of the largest polluted areas in the western United States, a $111 million clean-up will restore the river bed by removing harmful amounts of arsenic, copper, lead and other heavy metals.

Wednesday, crews from the Department of Environmental Quality gave community leaders and Governor Steve Bullock a tour of the Clark Fork River Restoration Project,  showing off clean water, newly-planted trees and tons of toxic soil being safely removed and stored away.

"This work is important to the agricultural heritage of our state. It's important to the fisheries, it's creating jobs and we're making a real difference moving a lot of dirt and cleaning up stuff that was here for 100 years."

In March, crews began phase one of the project, which covers 1.6 miles of the total 47 miles  that will be cleaned up by 2028.

"It's been a very well-received project from the landowners, the community, the other stake holders on the project, again we're really to see it start," said Clark Fork River Project Manager, Brian Bartkowiak.

Crews assess the most polluted areas, dig out the sediment, and re-build the river bed with clean sediment from surrounding areas.

Crews will finish re-building the first stretch of the stream bed by Thanksgiving.

This fall and next spring, tens of thousands of willow trees and native plants will be planted along the river--completing phase one.

"We are removing the worst of the worst contamination from the flood plain, contamination that has a high likely hood of getting back into the river and pose an unacceptable risk to human health and environmental health," Bartkowiak said.

$111 million project is funded by the Atlantic Richfield Company, known as ARCO, after a lawsuit determined that since ARCO purchased the Anaconda Mining Company in 1977, it is responsible for the pollution caused by the mines.

Bartkowiak says at no cost to taxpayers, the project creates construction, engineering and overhead jobs among others, with 30 to 50 workers on-site each day.

"This is the restoration economy occurring with a company based out Helena moving all of the dirt and more than that too, it's preserving something that for generations to come. For the first time in 100 years we'll have a clean river and the banks next to it," Bullock said.

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