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Clark Fork River Response and Restoration Team



Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site and Bureau of Land Management Public Lands, National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management, Montana

Project Point of Contact

Greg Nottingham, NPS
303 415-1483
Greg_Nottingham@nps.gov

Project Summary

The Clark Fork River basin includes four National Priorities List ("NPL") sites and 18 operable units making it one of the most complex Superfund cleanup sites.  The "Clark Fork River Operable Unit" stretches over 120 miles near Missoula, Montana.  Over a century of gold, silver, and especially copper mining produced vast quantities mining and milling waste containing arsenic, copper, cadmium, lead, zinc, and acid-generating sulfides.  The waste now contaminates the Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site ("Grant-Kohrs Ranch") managed by National Park Service and additional land parcels managed by Bureau of Land Management.

The Departmental case team, representing NPS, BLM, the Natural Resource Damages Assessment and Restoration Fund, the Central Hazardous Materials Fund, and the Solicitor's Office, worked effectively to collaborate with the State of Montana, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the Environmental Protection Agency.  Together, these government partners forged an alliance to secure funding for all necessary response and restoration activities.  Under the terms of the consent decree, the responsible party will pay more than $180 million to reimburse the State and the United States for all past and future costs needed to restore the Site, including costs to fund a NPS project manager to oversee restoration activities and response action on Departmental land.  This Interior/EPA/State partnership offers a model for other mixed-ownership Superfund sites where there is an opportunity to integrate natural resource restoration with remedial action.

Project Description

The Need for Site Remediation and Restoration

Established by Canadian fur trader Johnny Grant in 1859, and transformed into one of the great open range cattle ranches by Conrad Kohrs, Grant-Kohrs Ranch commemorates the frontier cattle era of the nation's history.  Grant-Kohrs Ranch was established as a unit of the National Park System in 1972 and includes over 1,500 acres, 88 historic structures, and an archival collection of over 28,000 items.  In establishing the Ranch, Congress directed NPS to "recreate the historic ranch scene of the 1880-1900 period."

While Conrad Kohrs was trading cattle with pioneers moving west on the Oregon and Mormon Trails, gold was being mined in southwest Montana.  Although the gold played out quickly, Butte soon became the site of the "richest hill on earth" and the "war of the copper kings."  By the turn of the century, large-scale copper mining and smelting was producing over a thousand tons of tailings every day.  These waste products, containing high concentrations of heavy metals and metalloids, were dumped into tributaries of the Clark Fork River, eventually leaving deposits several feet thick throughout the Clark Fork River floodplain all the way to the Milltown Reservoir, just north of Missoula.

The river flowing through Grant-Kohrs Ranch is saturated with copper, arsenic, cadmium, lead, and zinc.  Approximately 122 acres of riparian corridor within Grant-Kohrs Ranch have been adversely impacted, including areas of barren "slickens" where phytotoxic soils will not support any vegetation.  In other areas, impacted soils support only predominantly non-native, metal-tolerant species, depleting native vegetation communities.  As a result, stream banks are destabilized and the landscape has been significantly altered.  Contaminants in the stream banks and floodplain prevent the development of deep-binding roots, resulting in accelerated rates of erosion and the continuous release of contaminants into the river.  Terrestrial and aquatic organisms, including the endangered Bull Trout, have been affected and the riparian zone poses human health risks that have required NPS to post warning signs advising the public of possible adverse health effects.

Atlantic Richfield Corporation ("ARCO") acquired the Anaconda Copper Mining Company in 1977, acquiring liability in the process for response costs and damages associated with hazardous substance releases and natural resource injuries at the Site.

Slickens at Grant-Kohrs Ranch NHS

Photo Caption:  “Slickens” at Grant-Kohrs Ranch NHS along the Clark Fork River floodplain, containing high concentrations of mining-related arsenic, copper, cadmium, lead, and zinc. Much of this woody debris has been present for over a century without decomposing because of the lack of soil microbes in these toxic soils and tailings.

Site Challenges

The Site is a mixed ownership site that was listed on the NPL in 1992.  The mixed ownership nature of the Site presented an opportunity for EPA and DOI to coordinate their respective authorities and responsibilities.  Early efforts by NPS to persuade EPA to recognize NPS CERCLA response action authorities were largely rebuffed.  Nevertheless, the DOI case team continued to work with EPA to attempt to ensure that NPS land management, response action, and natural resource restoration objectives associated with Grant-Kohrs Ranch were integrated into the EPA remedial investigation, feasibility study, and selection of remedial action for the Site.

In addition, the DOI case team faced challenges in coordinating with the State of Montana’s Natural Resource Damages Program and its Department of Environmental Quality.  Early discussions between EPA, DOI, and the State focused on the concept that the State would perform Site-wide implementation of the selected remedial action in coordination with the implementation of both the Federal and State natural resources restoration plans.  The DOI case team faced the task of negotiating an agreement with the State and EPA by which the State would perform work – both remedial action and NPS restoration activities – on Grant-Kohrs Ranch.

Finally, the government partners faced the challenge of negotiating a settlement agreement with ARCO, a well-represented and sophisticated PRP, by which the funds necessary to pay for restoration and remediation of the entire Site would be secured.

Site Successes

The DOI case team was successful in reaching an agreement with EPA whereby EPA recognized and adopted a cleanup standard for Grant-Kohrs Ranch that was based on the NPS Organic Act and the Grant-Kohrs enabling legislation.  Using the CERCLA requirement that remedial action attain “applicable or relevant and appropriate requirements” (“ARARs”), the DOI case team defined a location-specific ARAR that will ensure that the remedial action selected by EPA results in a cleanup that will attain NPS land management objectives.  As described by EPA in the ROD for the Site:

EPA and NPS have identified location-specific ARARs with respect to hazardous substance releases within or potentially affecting Grant-Kohrs.  These location-specific ARARs are derived from the NPS Organic Act (citation omitted) and the enabling legislation for Grant-Kohrs Ranch (“the Grant-Kohrs Act,” citation omitted).  As described further in Part 3, (Responsiveness Summary), and within this section of the Record of Decision, attainment of these ARARs requires remedial measures that ensure the historic ranch landscape of the late nineteenth century is reestablished, preserved, and sustained for future generations in a condition unimpaired by hazardous substances (emphasis added).

Specifically, the Grant-Kohrs Act, read in combination with the Organic Act, establishes location-specific requirements for the Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site, the attainment of which is necessary to enable this national historic site to fulfill the statutory purposes for which it was established.  These location-specific ARARs translate into defined performance standards for the remedial action to attain.  These performance standards require that the selected remedial action re-establish self-producing and sustaining native riparian vegetative communities and species that are required by the ARAR standard.  

Working with EPA, the DOI case team identified 17 different plant communities, each ranging from 5 to 35 species, that, but for the effects of hazardous substances, should be found within the riparian corridor of the Grant-Kohrs Ranch.  The location-specific ARAR adopted by EPA’s ROD requires that the remedial action achieve the reestablishment and preservation of these plant communities.  To our knowledge, this is the first site in the country where EPA and DOI have developed such an innovative approach to coordinating CERCLA remedial action requirements with DOI land management objectives.

Given that the location-specific ARAR for Grant-Kohrs Ranch is a performance standard defined by the reestablishment of native riparian plant communities, integration of remedial action with additional NPS natural resource restoration activities is expected to occur quite naturally.  Restoration activities will focus on further enhancement of the reestablished native plant communities.  Because future remedial action and restoration will be so well integrated, the DOI case team expects that both projects will be managed by a single project manager resulting in cost efficiencies and improved coordination between the programs.

The DOI case team also successfully reached an agreement with the State of Montana and EPA under which the State will implement remedial action and future restoration activities Sitewide and at Grant-Kohrs Ranch.  This agreement, memorialized in a State Memorandum of Agreement (“SMOA”), outlines the framework by which the State, EPA, and NPS will partner to coordinate their responsibilities as remediation and restoration occur.  The State will implement restoration and remedial work within Grant-Kohrs Ranch, in conjunction with the restoration and remedial work it is performing Site-wide.  All work at or affecting Grant-Kohrs Ranch will be subject to NPS oversight and approval.

Finally, the DOI case team, with the invaluable support of DOJ and collaborating with our government partners, successfully negotiated a “cash-out” consent decree with ARCO to provide full funding for Site response action and restoration.  Under the terms of the consent decree, ARCO will pay:

  • All costs of future Site remedial action, including remedial action at Grant-Kohrs Ranch (in the event Site remedial action costs exceed $104 million, EPA, the State, and ARCO will split these additional costs but DOI will not pay any additional costs);

  • All costs of future Site restoration, including restoration at Grant-Kohrs Ranch, restoration of injured BLM land, and costs to fund a NPS project manager who will oversee both restoration activities and response action on DOI land; and

  • All DOI past response and natural resource damage assessment costs.

Governor's Demonstration Site, Warm Springs, Montana

Photo Caption: An example of the long-term Remediation/Restoration objective for DOI lands: Stable stream banks and a well vegetated floodplain along the Clark Fork River
(the photograph shows the Governor's Demonstration Site, Warm Springs, Montana)


Scope of the Project's Impact – A Model for Future Successes

The results achieved by the DOI case team working on the Clark Fork Site in partnership with EPA, DOJ, and the State of Montana suggest that the Site offers a model to achieve interagency environmental stewardship at contaminated sites that can be employed at other sites where there is an opportunity to integrate natural resource restoration with remedial action.  Specifically:

  • The Site represents a high-water mark in terms of DOI/EPA coordination at mixed ownership NPL sites.  The agencies overcame disputes regarding legal authorities to forge a remedial action that fully recognizes and achieves the land management objectives of NPS and the Department.  EPA and NPS developed a location-specific ARAR that reflects both the non-impairment mandate of the NPS Organic Act and the purposes for which Grant-Kohrs Ranch was created.  This precedent can be applied at future NPS sites as well as sites managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and BLM.

  • The partnership between Federal and State agencies at the Site represents the highest level of intergovernmental consultation and cooperation in the name of conservation.  DOI, EPA, and the State of Montana have fashioned an approach to integrating restoration activities with remedial action that will maximize efficiencies, take full advantage of the State's years of experience in cleaning up and restoring riparian corridors, while fully preserving NPS management authority over lands under its jurisdiction.  This approach can be followed at sites around the country where the integration of restoration and remedial action can yield similar benefits.

  • The government partners resolved internal differences and presented a unified front in negotiations with ARCO, securing over $180 million to accomplish the remediation and natural resource restoration of the 120 miles of riparian habitat.  This serves as a fine example of the benefits of collaboration among government agencies in pursuing costs from parties responsible for contamination.

  • The Team that NPS nominates for recognition in association with the successes achieved at the Clark Fork Site comprises the following individuals:

    • Greg Nottingham, NPS CERCLA Project Manager/ DOI NRDAR Case Manager

    • Shawn P. Mulligan, Senior Environmental Program Advisor, NPS

    • Anthony Schetzsle, Regional Deputy Director, former Grant-Kohrs Superintendent

    • Paul Meyer, BLM NRDAR Coordinator

    • Peter Bierbach, BLM HazMat Coordinator, Montana State Office

    • Casey S. Padgett, Senior Attorney, DOI Office of the Solicitor

    • Matthew Morrison, Senior Attorney, Environmental Enforcement Section, DOJ

    • Robert Homiak, Senior Attorney, Environmental Enforcement Section, DOJ

    • D. Henry Elsen, Attorney, EPA Region 8.