Montana residents, ARCO settle longtime contamination suit

June 8, 2021 GMT

BUTTE, Mont. (AP) — A civil lawsuit between Montana residents and an oil company that dragged on for more than a decade has ended quietly after a judge dismissed the case as a result of a settlement agreement.

District Court Judge Katherine Bidegaray referenced a settlement between state residents and the Atlantic Richfield Co. but provided no details of the agreement, The Montana Standard reported. A motion to dismiss the case was filed jointly, she said.

The lawsuit was initially filed against ARCO in April 2008 by 98 people living in the cities of Opportunity and Crackerville, near Butte and about 70 miles (112 kilometers) southwest of Helena. It alleged that smelter waste was contaminating the rural communities’ soils and threating residents’ wells and claimed common law trespass, nuisance and strict liability against ARCO.


The residents sought restoration damages to pay for a more thorough cleanup than what was planned by ARCO under the federal Superfund law, also known as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980.

Lawyer Mark Kovacich and his firm, Odegaard Kovacich Snipes, and lawyers from a Bozeman firm represented the residents. Kovacich declined to comment on the settlement terms because they are confidential.

The case traveled through state and federal courts since it was first filed, including through the U.S. Supreme Court in 2019, before concluding in a state district court.

“It’s been 13 years,” said Serge Myers, a 76-year-old resident of Opportunity, who worked at the smelter for 16 years. “It’s been a long haul. We did the best we could. Our lawyers did the best they could.”

Neither John Davis, a lawyer who represented ARCO, nor two company employees familiar with the Anaconda Co. Smelter site were immediately available to comment on the case or settlement.

Charlie Coleman, the Environmental Protection Agency’s remedial project manager for the site, said testing and cleanup continues in the rural area. The EPA has said it hopes to complete remedial construction activities on the smelter site by December 2025.

Copper King Marcus Daly and the Anaconda Copper Mining Co. began smelting copper ore from Butte in the 1880s, The Montana Standard reported. Around 1902, ore processing and smelting operations began at the Washoe Smelter, which was designed to disperse smoke from the smelter to try to reduce pollution.

In 1977, ARCO purchased the Anaconda Co. and inherited vast lands polluted with arsenic, lead, copper, cadmium and zinc from ore-processing operations and stack emissions. Later, under the federal Superfund law, ARCO became retroactively liable for that contamination.