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Officials say Clark Fork River looks better, cleanup will take time

By Donovan Hill, KTVM Reporter, dhill@ktvm.com
Published On: Mar 15 2013 05:05:12 PM MDT
Updated On: Mar 15 2013 06:13:14 PM MDT
BUTTE, Mont. -

After over 25 years of being in the works the cleanup of the Clark Fork River has begun. The Clark Fork River connects the largest complex of federal Superfund sites in the United States.

With such a large area NBC Montana wanted to see how officials are organizing their efforts.

We met up with Brian Bartkowiak, who is the project supervisor with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

"This river has been contaminated from mine waste that's washed down from Butte and Anaconda and it's basically been sitting on the floodplain from the river for the past 100 years," said Bartkowiak.

This is only the first phase of the project, which takes place on state-owned land near the Warm Springs exit off of Interstate 90.

"This is phase one, the first phase of the river, and it's about 1.6 miles long," added Bartkowiak.

Problems with mining waste began in the early 1900s from the smelting in Anaconda and mining in Butte. Now, more than 100 years later, the Upper Clark Fork still displays signs of heavy mining waste.

The biggest of these signs is the heavy metal-based sediments that build up on the banks of the river, keeping anything from growing there unless it's removed.

"The copper and zinc prevent plants from growing and prevent good, ripe vegetation from being established on the river," Bartkowiak explained.

The project has a total of 22 phases to complete the cleanup and officials say they expect the whole operation to last about 15 years.

"This is a really historic cleanup for the state of Montana and this is something the whole state should be proud of," said Bartkowiak.

The cost of the entire project is just over $100 million.