Water park among crowd favorites for ideas for former smelter stack, but cost could make it unlikely
Popular ideas for the former smelter site in Black Eagle include primitive trails, a monument to the smelter and its workers, folf courses and a water park.
About 60 people attended a meeting this week at the Black Eagle Community Center to share ideas and concerns about future development on the roughly 540 acres formerly occupied by the Anaconda Company’s smelter and the iconic stack.
Cascade County Commissioners hired Water and Environmental Technologies, WET, earlier this year using grant funds from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to evaluate opportunities for bicycle/pedestrian connections to the Art Higgins Memorial Park, also known as Black Eagle Park, and other park improvements. They’re also exploring ideas for future use of lands within the former ACM Smelter and Refinery site.
The park is county property and the commission will make the final decision, but Weber said they want to engage the community in the process.
Most people said they were just there to listen, but once the idea of a water park was mentioned, most said they supported the idea.
A number of other people suggested a trail system that would also connect with other trails in the area, including those in Black Eagle Park and the River’s Edge Trail.
County Commissioners in attendance mentioned that they were leaning toward ideas that involved primitive trails and recreational areas to reduce costs and maintenance requirements.
There are no utilities or infrastructure in most of the Superfund area, or Operational Unit 2, and that would add significant cost and time to any major development of the site.
Contamination and remediation costs also make residential development impractical, according to Dick Sloan with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. He attended this week’s meeting, as did representatives of the EPA, BNSF and Atlantic Richfield Company, or ARCO.
The EPA placed the site on the Superfund program’s National Priority List in March 2011.
The lack of utilities, water contamination and sheer costs of operating and maintaining a water park an unlikely option for the site, especially since some meeting participants mentioned their unwillingness to pay additional taxes or fees for any development on the site.
Members of the Electric City Dirt Riders expressed concern about the project’s impact on their property.
Dean Carroll, vice president of the group said the track has been there since the 1960s, but others who have come into the area haven’t always been good neighbors. He didn’t specify who those not so good neighbors were.
“It’s a place where we go to recreate the way we like to recreate,” he said.
Carroll said if development ideas move forward that the group should be informed. Commissioners and the consultant reminded them that it’s a public process that would include public hearings on any votes.
He suggested a buffer of some kind between any development and the track to minimize any conflict between land uses.
Weber said that their property is private property and an acceptable use so this planning process wouldn’t impact their track in any way. It’s also outside the Superfund site, she said, but the buffer idea was a good suggestion.
Sarah Peck, with the Black Eagle Water and Sewer District, said they’re hoping to do a major utility connectivity project in conjunction with the remediation work.
Cameron Poncelet of the Great Falls Bicycle Club suggested an interconnected trail within the site, “its own little mini system,” that would also connect to other trails in the area.
Jana Shank, also with the bicycle club, said she supported anything that would promote outdoor activity and healthy lifestyles.
She said a folf course would be fine, but please no more golf courses.
After the meeting, she told The Electric that she’d encourage built tracks such as single dirt tracks like mountain biking trails, with areas that people could learn mountain biking skills. Given the site’s significant acreage, the trail system could include varying levels of difficulty in different areas.
Monte Marzetta, head of the Black Eagle Civic Club, asked who assumes liability for whatever goes in and Commissioner Joe Briggs said that is one of the major questions to be addressed in the land use planning.
The WET team is now using the feedback to develop a draft document, which will be available for public comment in November and the final drafted is scheduled for public review in February.