Montana Standard: Sen. Steve Daines gets rare visit to Anaconda’s former smoke stack

Standing in the shadow of the Washoe Smelter, Republican Sen. Steve Daines got the lay of the land on Anaconda’s Superfund Friday while the quiet valley lay far below.

Daines got a rare visit to the 585-foot smoke stack while making stops throughout southwest Montana Friday. He also visited Whitehall, Dillon and Deer Lodge as part of a 56-county tour around the state. He talked to ranchers in Whitehall, stock growers in Dillon, and lumber industry professionals in Deer Lodge. He also paid a visit to a pilot’s group in Missoula.

He stopped in Butte in early March.

His stopover in Anaconda included a visit to the Washoe Smelter stack, which ended operation in 1980. Although the smoke stack is technically labeled a state park, there is no public access to it.

But once the largest stack in the world, it is 125 feet wide at its base. The Washington Monument could fit inside of it, according to Ken Brockman, civil engineer with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Brockman was also part of the tour.

Doug Benevento, Environmental Protection Agency administrator for Region 8, made the tour, as did Bill Everett, Anaconda-Deer Lodge County chief executive, and a few representatives from Atlantic Richfield Company. Charlie Coleman, EPA project manager for Anaconda, also participated.

But there were no members of the public and no other press in attendance.

Daines asked how the secret talks between the EPA, the state, the county, and Atlantic Richfield are going. Anaconda is now trying to reach a deal over its Superfund cleanup — behind closed doors — similar to what Butte went through late last year which led to a verbal agreement in 2018.

The EPA has set a deadline for the end of July for all parties to reach a consensus on Anaconda’s cleanup. If an agreement cannot be reached by then over the Smelter City, the EPA will order Atlantic Richfield to finish the work.

But virtually everyone involved in Superfund says that reaching an agreement is the better option.

Everett assured Daines that the county can make the deadline.

“I don’t see anything insurmountable,” Everett said.

The crew met at the Anaconda Local Development Corp. conference room and rounded out the visit with a quick stopover at the Old Works Golf Course.

During the tour, Daines and Everett discussed real estate in Anaconda. Everett said the cost of real estate is going up, the cost of rent in Anaconda is going up, and the amount of homes for sale has gone down.

“It’s nice to see housing prices go up,” Daines said. “That’s a positive sign.”

Because of the smoke stack’s aerial emissions, the cleanup consists of thousands of acres. So far, Atlantic Richfield has reclaimed about 12,000 acres.