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Know the West

Demolish the dam, sayeth the Lord

  Champagne corks popped recently in the office of the Clark Fork Coalition, a Montana environmental group. On April 15, the Environmental Protection Agency sided with the Clark Fork River, calling for the removal of the Milltown Dam and its toxic reservoir, just east of Missoula.

“We’re thrilled,” says Tracy Stone-Manning, director of the coalition. “This is an example of how an environmental issue turned into a community issue — this is how you can achieve victory in this political climate.”

Nearly a century of mine and smelter runoff, poisoned with arsenic and metals, drifted downriver from Butte and Anaconda to the small hydroelectric dam, where the Clark Fork meets the Blackfoot River. It’s part of one of the nation’s biggest Superfund sites.

The 1,100-member Clark Fork Coalition built local support for the cleanup, until even Montana Gov. Judy Martz, R, an industry stalwart, supported it. During a visit to Missoula, Martz suggested that the Lord was on the side of breaching the dam and removing toxic sludge behind it. “God has a plan, too,” she told the Washington Post. “We have to help Him by cleaning up the sediment. Then He will do the rest.”

The $95 million cleanup bill will go to the corporations that inherited the liability when they bought the mining sites and the dam — Atlantic Richfield Co. (Arco), BP (British Petroleum), and Northwestern Energy.