June 10, 2009

Release of a conceptual framework for determining just how and where the state of Montana should spend $120 million in restoration funds in the upper Clark Fork River basin over the next couple of decades is still on hold.

The Montana Natural Resource Damage Program is an agency within the Dept. of Justice that oversees the administration of the lawsuit settlement  against the Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) for injuries to the Upper Clark Fork’s water, soils, fish and wildlife. The lawsuit was filed in 1983 and the first settlement came in 1999 (which resulted in the creation of the grants program), another in 2005, and the most recent in 2008.

The three settlements provided about $231 million total for restoration of natural resources in the basin. Out of that amount, about $19 million is earmarked for litigation costs, about $92 million is earmarked for specific projects, and the remaining $120 million, plus interest, can be used to restore or replace injured natural resources and lost services throughout the basin.

In early 2008, the NRDP drafted a conceptual framework, or restoration Road Map, for allocating and prioritizing these funds. The Road Map proposed that funding be allocated proportionately for groundwater, terrestrial, and aquatic resource restoration projects based on the lawsuit claims and that restoration priorities be determined and then implemented in a 15-to-20 year timeframe. (For links to the Road Map, visit the NRDP's website.)

Between March and September 2008, the proposal was the subject of substantial deliberation by the Governor’s Upper Clark Fork Remediation and Restoration Advisory Council, the Governor’s Trustee Restoration Council, and then by the general public through four public hearings and a 60-day public comment period. The State received extensive comments on the proposal, with about half of them in support of the proposal and half of them seeking major changes to it.

In late 2008, the Governor directed the NRDP and the Advisory Council to try to work out a consensus Road Map proposal. The NRDP proposed three major changes to the draft Road Map proposal that were considered by the Advisory Council in January 2009 and Trustee Restoration Council in February 2009.

The Advisory Council reached a consensus vote on two of three proposed changes. The Trustee Restoration Council voted to defer a decision on the Road Map to allow for additional efforts to reach consensus. The Governor’s Office continues to work on those efforts.

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