County, agencies discussing details for potential use of Black Eagle site for Children’s Museum

County Commissioners met March 8 with the Children’s Museum of Montana and representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Atlantic Richfield Company about the potential use of the Stray Moose building in Black Eagle as the future home of the museum.

In late February, commissioners approved rezoning the property to mixed use.

The property has been leased by the county to Stray Moose Productions since 1999 and Stray Moose owns the building.

The potential use of the Stray Moose building for the museum is complicated because the land is owned by Cascade County, the building is owned by Stray Moose and the property is in the Operable Unit 2 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as part of the ACM Smelter and Refinery Superfund Site controlled by ARCO.

County approves rezone for Black Eagle site eyed for future Children’s Museum home

Charity Yonker, county planning director, said that Stray Moose is working with the museum to transfer the property to the museum and then the museum would lease the ground under the building from the county.

The Stray Moose site, “would offer the space we need and room to grow including outdoor space. It is a much better fit than any other property we have looked at. We have a buy-sell agreement with the owner of the building, we are actively raising funds to cover the local costs needed to obtain matching grant monies for the purchase, renovation, and move,” Neff said.

County board OKs rezone for potential Children’s Museum site in Black Eagle

The property was originally zoned I-2 heavy industrial in 2005 as part of the county-wide zoning process.

By 2007, the property was zoned I-1 light industrial and by 2009 it was zoned open space, according to the county.

Because the smelter side will need different levels of cleanup depending on the planned use of the property and during the March 8 meeting, officials discussed what levels of cleanup and the timeline if the museum intended to use outdoor space for children’s activities.

County proposing rezone for potential Children’s Museum site

They also discussed the likely need for the museum to upgrade the utilities to the site.

Elizabeth Erickson, of WET, the county’s consultant on planning for the site, said that based on existing plans, there are two-inch utility lines that wouldn’t meet the public standard and would need to be upgraded.

That would also likely require review by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, which is supposed to take about 60 days, but has been taking longer in some cases, she said.

Children’s Museum considering county site for future home

Deputy County Attorney Carey Ann Haight said that those upgrades would need to be completed before the museum would be able to open to the public.

Charlie Colemen and Bryan Lobar of the EPA said the allowable levels of contaminants at the site are different depending on the use and got a list of potential outdoor uses and areas to guide their plans.

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The EPA, ARCO and county have been working on cleanup plans and future uses of the site for years, and Commissioner Joe Briggs said he didn’t want to delay that work and that if they can get good soil sampling and determine where the worst areas area, they can plan accordingly or put provisions in the lease agreement to require cleanup where children might play.

Briggs said they should have a public meeting about the proposed museum use of the Stray Moose property so the Black Eagle area residents can learn about the proposal and voice any concerns they may have so the museum can also plan accordingly.

County approves $95,000 contract for continued planning work for former Black Eagle smelter site [2021]

Briggs and Haight said for the county to lease public property, it requires a public process and there are no guarantees the museum would be successful in that process.

But, Briggs said the sooner they could get an idea of whether it would work the better, so the museum can look for an alternative site if needed.