Missoula County concludes Kennedy Creek reclamation project

Sawpit channel diversion into dredge pond_03
Abandoned placer mines throughout Ninemile Creek and its tributaries have left the watershed impaired for decades. But a partnership comprised of Missoula County, Trout Unlimited and the Lolo National Forest have been chipping away at restoration since 2004. (Photo courtesy of Trout Unlimited)

By Martin Kidston/MISSOULA CURRENT

When a trio of partners devised a plan to restore Kennedy Creek back in 2010, they faced a daunting task. The tributary of Ninemile Creek included three abandoned mines and elevated levels of heavy medals, from arsenic to lead.

Mined in the early half of the 20th century, the abandoned sites had been identified as a high priority for reclamation by the state’s Mine Waste Cleanup Bureau. After years of planning, crews removed an estimated 6,000 cubic yards of waste rock and graded the landscape back to historic conditions.

On Tuesday, Missoula County commissioners brought a quiet and official end to the Kennedy Creek project. They also learned that the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation had approved a $35,000 grant application to help the county and its partners tackle their next Ninemile reclamation job.

“We’ve completed the final report for the DNRC on Kennedy Creek,” said Kali Becher, a rural landscape scientist with Missoula County. “One piece of that is signing the certificate of compliance – confirmation that we’ve completed everything we said we would.”

The county secured a $300,000 grant for Kennedy Creek in 2013, while the Lolo National Forest and Trout Unlimited provided $168,000 in matching funds. Crews completed reclamation work last year, leaving an ending-fund balance of roughly $120,000.

Becher said the remaining funds will be returned to DNRC’s Reclamation Development Grant program.

“This was under budget, partially because the amount of mine waste to be removed was overestimated,” Becher said. “It cost less, and the oversight was done well, increasing efficiency and saving money.”

Due to the liability involved in cleaning up the mining waste, Becher said, funding from the grant was channeled through the Lolo National Forest. The agency conducted the work in accordance with the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, or CERCLA.

Traci Sylte with the Lolo National Forest said the project came in under budget and achieved its goals. The project’s partners will monitor the site’s recovery through soil sampling, along with water quality and fish populations.

“It was a two-phased project to clean up the heavy metals, so they can’t enter the water supply anymore more, and we placed the waste into a repository,” said Sylte. “The second phase was working with Trout Unlimited on the stream dimension, meander, gradient and channel features, along with replanting.”

The Kennedy Creek project completes one of several reclamation efforts taking place up the Ninemile. Trout Unlimited, the county and the Forest Service launched a joint campaign in 2004 to reclaim the watershed’s abandoned mines and restore the landscape to a natural condition.

In hopes of continuing the effort, Missoula County submitted a $35,000 grant application to the Reclamation Development Grant program earlier this month to begin work on McCormick Creek, also in the Ninemile.

The county received word Tuesday that the grant had been approved.

“That’ll provide the funding to work on restoration plans for McCormick Creek and do a site investigation,” Becher said. “This comprehensive effort aims to reclaim the impacts of mining in the Ninemile watershed and improve water quality, fisheries and wildlife habitat.”

To date, funds from DNRC have supported five restoration projects throughout the watershed, including Mattie V. Creek and Twin Creek, which had been channeled into a ditch and a dredge pond before restoration took place.

Sylte said the partnership between the Forest Service and Missoula County, along with Trout Unlimited, has proven beneficial.

“From a collaborative standpoint, it went well, and from a physical standpoint, it went well,” she said. “The county was substantial in bringing in the funding. We’ve had no cost overruns with any of the programs we’ve done with stream restoration.”