HELENA — Asarco's long history of mining, smelting and land ownership in Montana is ending, as the company turns over property and $138 million for its clean up to a custodial trust.
The deal, which was to close Wednesday as the company emerges from bankruptcy protection, also includes an additional $56 million for cleaning up land Asarco does not own and for natural resource damages.
Asarco will relinquish title to nearly 4,000 acres of land at four sites to the Montana Custodial Trust. The land will be cleaned up and eventually sold to be developed for other uses.
About $100 million of the cleanup money is earmarked for treating underground arsenic and selenium plumes migrating away from the old East Helena lead smelter, and for removing lead and arsenic from land surrounding the smelter. A separate $15 million settlement was reached in February for the cleanup of private property in East Helena and Asarco will pay another $6 million to the state for environmental damages.
Environmental groups are worried the trust will not have enough money to complete the needed cleanup.
"It makes me fear for the future," said Anne Hedges with the Montana Environmental Information Center. "You know there will be cost overruns, and who will pick up those tabs?"
The settlement also includes $10 million for the cleanup of mine waste at the Mike Horse Mine near Lincoln, $17.5 million for the Black Pine site near Philipsburg, and $1.9 million for the Iron Mountain Mine and Mill near Superior.
The Department of Environmental Quality is receiving about $8.3 million and the Environmental Protection Agency $1 million to clean up contamination from several lead and silver mines at the Barker Hughesville Superfund site near Monarch. DEQ will receive $2 million and the U.S. Forest Service will get more than $500,000 for the Superior cleanup, while the Forest Service will also receive about $500,000 for the Philipsburg site.
"Now that Montana has actually received the settlement funds, we are looking forward to putting them to work cleaning up unhealthy and contaminated sites so that people can use and enjoy them again for generations to come," Richard Opper, director of the state Department of Environmental Quality, said in a statement Wednesday.
About $8.9 million has been set aside to administer the trust and the other $39.5 million goes to the state to be used for wetlands enhancement, open space or parks, or other environmental purposes.
Gov. Brian Schweitzer said every $1 million spent on environmental restoration and cleanup creates at least 31 jobs and returns about $2.6 million to local economies.
"It's been a long process, but the settlement funds will pay dividends to Montana's restoration economy for over a decade, Schweitzer said.
The Montana settlement is part of a larger settlement that allows Asarco to emerge from bankruptcy as a subsidiary of Grupo Mexico.