The project now underway at the Milltown Reservoir is one of the nation's most challenging and ambitious environmental cleanups. It is an effort that integrates what's known as the Three Rs, remediation, restoration and redevelopment.
Remediation: Removing the Dam and the Worst of The Sediments
Remediation covers the basic clean up of the Milltown Reservoir, including the removal of more than 2 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment and the dam itself. The chief goals of remediation are the recovery of the contaminated Milltown aquifer and improvement of water quality in the river below the dam. Removing the dam will also restore fish passage for the threatened native bull trout.
Spanning the Blackfoot River in Milltown are five bridges - one belonging to Montana Rail Link, two I-90 bridges, the Highway 200 and Missoula County's pedestrian bridge. Before the Milltown Dam could be removed in 2008, those bridges - built to stand in slack water -- had to be upgraded or replaced to withstand the restored flows of the Blackfoot River.
The remediation phase is winding down and is expected to be complete by the end of 2009. Restoration of the site is already underway.
Restoration: Returning Natural Functions to the Clark Fork and Blackfoot Rivers
The State of Montana's restoration project picks up where remediation leaves off. Funds from a State lawsuit against ARCO, over damage to natural resources as a result of historic mining and smelting in Butte and Anaconda, will be used to restore the confluence of the Clark Fork and Blackfoot Rivers to a naturally functioning river.
The final restoration plan's end goals are improved water quality and habitat for fish and wildife, and safe recreational opportunities for people.
The restoration work will extend from the dam upstream about two-and-a-half miles. The first segment of almost a mile from the dam to Duck Bridge will be coordinated with remediation activities. An entirely new channel will be built through the reservoir area and through the dam using the native cobbles that underlie the reservoir sediments. Native vegetation will be planted to hold the banks together. The floodplain and terraces will be reconstructed and revegetated, and there will be wetlands in some areas next to the river. Above Duck Bridge, the floodplain will be excavated for a distance of about a half-mile to provide a constant slope and seamless transition between the existing channel and the new channel. Additional channel stabilization will occur for another mile upstream.
Redevelopment: Building on the Cleanup to Benefit Communities
Redevelopment capitalizes the opportunities afforded by the Superfund cleanup and restoration efforts for community revitalization. How will the public benefit from the years of work and millions of dollars that will have gone into cleaning up the Milltown Superfund site?
In 2003, the Milltown Superfund Redevelopment Working Group was formed, comprising of Bonner-Milltown residents, representatives of community groups, and river stakeholders all appointed by the Missoula County Commissioners. Funded by an EPA grant, the Working Group has played a key role in community projects that have spun-off from the Milltown Superfund effort. The Working Group, with community involvement, created a conceptual redevelopment plan that led in part to the creation of the Bonner community council, development of trails in the Piltzville area, and the construction of the new pedestrian bridge, community-based restoration and efforts to preserve and celebrate
local history and culture. It is currently working with Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks and Missoula County on developing at state park
at the Milltown site.