County selects preferred design option for Art Higgins Memorial Park
County Commissioners voted unanimously last week to select their preferred option for future development in and around Art Higgins Memorial Park as part of the Black Eagle Superfund remediation.
There is no timeline for the developments or funding identified, but the county wanted to have a selected plan so that when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does remediation work, the park plan can factor in.
Commissioner Jane Weber said the plans are conceptual and will be part of remediation negotiations with the EPA, BNSF and Atlantic Richfield Company, or ARCO.
“At this time we have no idea exactly how it would be funded,” Weber said during an Aug. 18 hearing on the project.
Last year, a county release stated, “design ideas can help with the cleanup strategies outlined in the EPA’s Management Plan and might even help fund park improvements through cleanup activities,” according to a county release.
One of the goals in developing plans for future development and land use is to offer suggestions to the EPA for their cleanup plan and ideally, reduce costs if some development ideas can be implemented through the cleanup process.
The EPA placed the site on the Superfund program’s National Priority List in March 2011.
The project includes developing a land management master plan concept for the area and determining what kind of long-term sustainability exists for the land use plans, in terms of managing and maintaining whatever is developed in that area, Cascade County Commissioner Jane Weber told The Electric when the project was starting in 2017.
Elizabeth Erickson, the WET project manager, said last year that often the remediation and cleanup plans are done long before any land use plans are done, but in this case, the timing was optimal to start land use planning first.
The Art Higgins Memorial Park, a county park managed and maintained by the nonprofit Black Eagle Park Board, is located between the abandoned high line and low line railroad spurs that served the former ACM Smelter and Refinery.
During the Aug. 18 meeting, several people spoke in support of Option C, which is the most expensive option, but also includes more sidewalks and doesn’t route trails through the middle of the park. That’s ultimately the option commissioners selected as their preferred option.
Rebecca Engum of Great Falls Montana Tourism said their agency supported any of the plans as one of the most common questions they get is how to see the falls.
“Regardless of option, this is a really great opp to expand recreation along the Rivers Edge Trail,” Engum said.
Jim Halgeson of Black Eagle said he believes any of the options will improve the park.
Ruth Fisher, president of the Black Eagle park board, said she was concerned that the sidewalk on the northside of the park would restrict access to their water line in that area. The consultant on the project said the sidewalk wouldn’t be place over the water line and the water line could potentially be moved during the remediation.
The commission received some written comment that suggested ADA parking and a loading zone as well as some comment on the location of a gate on the south side.
Commissioner Joe Briggs said they should select the best option for moving forward and note for the record the other suggestions rather than amending the plan.
The smelter facility operated as a copper smelter from 1893 to 1917, and later as a copper and zinc refinery until its closure in 1980.
Sampling and investigations of the soils in the area revealed contamination in the area and the smelter and refinery site was registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on the national priority list as a Superfund site in 2010.
The EPA identified three operable units, or OUs, within the site to better manage investigation and remedial activities.
OU-1 includes Art Higgins Memorial Park and the Black Eagle neighborhoods west of the former ACM property.
OU-2 is the former ACM site and stack area, Anaconda Golf Course and land along the river owned by Montana State, Northwestern Energy and Cascade County.
OU-3 is the Missouri River from 15th Street Bridge downriver to Fort Benton.
In August 2016, commissioners accepted an EPA Cooperative Agreement Grant authorizing county personnel to develop a request for proposals to:
- Develop Park Plans and Trail connection strategies for OU-1;
- Develop a Land Use Master Plan for OU-2;
- Explore Long Term Management Options for the land within OU-2
Water and Environmental Technologies of Butte, partnered with L’Heureux Page Werner Architecture, Land Design Inc. and Community Development Services and submitted a proposal for the work.
Cascade County awarded the contract to WET to accomplish the three deliverables presented in the RFP.
Beginning in 2017, WET reviewed existing planning documents, interviewed several stakeholder groups, and conducted on-site field visits. Key stakeholder work groups were established. WET convened several meetings and developed three concept alternatives for trail connections, parking, and vehicle circulation at the county park incorporating public comment.
The resulting concept plan was the culmination of multiple public meetings and input from the Black Eagle community. The conceptual plan was revealed at a final community meeting in 2018. With the impending start of contaminant cleanup in the OU-1 area, the County Commissioners need to select a preferred alternative to help guide the cleanup strategy, thus the purpose for this public hearing and commission meeting.