Progress rode into Anaconda on a sharp west wind Tuesday.
At a building site at Polk Street and Highway 1, gusts kept blowing down the pictures of the $10 million Forge Hotel and new Barclay’s II Restaurant, but there were plenty of hands to keep putting them back up. Best of all, the pictures were backed up by an EPA consent decree and settlement with the Smelter City, and real money.
Bill Everett, Anaconda chief executive; Doug Benevento, acting deputy administrator of the EPA; and U.S. Sen. Steve Daines braved the wind to celebrate real accomplishment after nearly four decades of Superfund stasis.
Everett spoke of his frustration after taking over as chief executive in 2016.
“I’m a businessman, not a government employee,” he said, and when he first reached out to fellow businessmen to invest in Anaconda, he was told, the town is going in the wrong direction. You have blight, you have a Superfund mess, and you have no dollars to spend on economic development.
He credited his Anaconda team with addressing the blight. “Joe Ungaretti has torn down 79 derelict buildings and made it clear to people in Anaconda that it’s no longer acceptable to have old dishwashers and sofas in the front yard.
“We’ve worked on 114 streets for the first time in 40 years, we have new streetlights. Wayne Wendt and his road department has done a great job.”
But Everett said things really began to change when he met with EPA Region 8 Administrator Doug Benevento. The newly-appointed Benevento had come to Butte but not to Anaconda, so Everett went to him. They had lunch at Taco del Sol, he said, and there, Everett said, “I made my emotions real clear.”
Benevento responded, saying he would come to Anaconda, and he did.
“We took him to the stack, we took him to Benny Goodman Park where our children play. We showed him our houses and how much Anaconda needed action. ‘It’s been almost 40 years, sir, come on,’ I told him.”
As Superfund negotiations continued, Everett saw a difference.
“He got my team, EPA, Atlantic Richfield, DEQ together and he said get this done or I’m going to impose a unilateral order,” Everett said. “I didn’t know what a unilateral order was, but it scared me and it scared Atlantic Richfield, and we got a deal done.”
Benevento laughed. He said, “Bill’s recollection of events is accurate.” He praised Everett, the Anaconda team, and Daines for keeping things moving forward.
Everett said the hotel project is just one of three huge development projects going on simultaneously. The other two are a $3 million RV park being developed by Gary Chilcott and a $2 million renovation of Old Works Golf Course, to include a “bar, restaurant, taproom, and inside golf,” he said.
Everett said as events progressed, he realized he needed more help. And so he called Daines.
“Pretty cool state, you can actually call your U.S. senator,” Everett said.
He called Daines and Benevento “heroes of mine.”
He said Daines has been enormously helpful in getting things going in Anaconda.
“Next thing we knew we had Sen. Daines and EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler in Anaconda.”
Daines said, “I remember when I was in high school in Bozeman, Anaconda was an AA school and Bozeman was a small AA school. Hopefully we’re on track now so that Anaconda will be an AA school again.”
He praised Benevento and EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler for their work in Butte and Anaconda.
“I told Andrew Wheeler years ago that Anaconda and Butte were tired of EPA studies and reports, and we don’t need any more studies to gather dust on bookshelves, we need results.
“And that’s what we see here today.”
Daines said the projects in Anaconda represent “the biggest economic stimulus in Anaconda in 50 years.”
He said that soon, “grade school children will be able to think that they can stay in Anaconda instead of having to leave when it’s time for them to get good jobs and raise their own families.”
As the dignitaries prepared to use fancy shovels to turn ceremonial dirt, Everett said,
“People here say the time for words is past. They want physical results. ‘Show me something getting done, Bill,’ they tell me.
“Well, here it is, Phase One, right here before you today.
Earlier Tuesday, Benevento and Daines also met with community leaders and activists in Butte to celebrate the signing of the Butte Hill consent decree.