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EPA celebrates reuse success with groundbreaking of East Helena High School

Partnership transforms another portion of Superfund site

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DENVER -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) celebrated a milestone achievement with the East Helena Public Schools and other agencies and organizations at a ground-breaking ceremony at the future location of the East Helena High School at 2760 Valley Drive in East Helena, Montana yesterday.

The East Helena Public Schools (EHPS) high school will welcome an anticipated 500-600 students. The opening ceremony was held yesterday, Monday, March 18, 2019 at 5:30 p.m. East Helena officials plan to open the $29.5 million school to students in 2020.

“The opening of the East Helena High School exemplifies what can be achieved when communities come together to focus on Superfund site reuse,” said EPA Assistant Regional Administrator Betsy Smidinger.  “Today, we celebrate a partnership that has made a shared vision a reality.”

EPA, EHPS, the Montana Environmental Trust Group LLC (METG), and the State of Montana worked with community residents to identify ways to reuse property that is protective of public health and the environment. METG, as trustee of the Montana Environmental Custodial Trust, sold 35 acres at the East Helena Superfund site to EHPS for the new high school in November 2018.

“METG’s diligence, commitment and thoughtful approach to remediating and redeveloping the former ASARCO lands have helped transform the community of East Helena,” said East Helena School Superintendent Ron Whitmoyer. “Together, METG and EPA have made a lasting contribution to the EHPS mission to create an educational experience for our students that is designed to cultivate an appreciation of learning, a sense of self-worth and mutual respect for their world and each other.”

In 2011, EPA hosted a redevelopment planning design charrette to gather and synthesize ideas from a broad group of stakeholders — including the State of Montana, the Montana Environmental Trust Group, LLC, local government representatives, and residents — to determine how 2,000 acres of property at the East Helena Superfund site might be redeveloped. The group met regularly throughout the cleanup to share information, provide feedback and consider future potential uses for the former ASARCO property.

 “EPA has enjoyed a very cooperative and collaborative relationship with METG and essentially everyone involved,” said Betsy Burns, EPA’s project manager for the site.

As part of cleanup activity at the East Helena Superfund site, the Custodial Trust designed and implemented interim measures that were approved by EPA to address contaminated soils and groundwater at and from the site. EPA and the Trust worked with local government agencies to implement land and groundwater use controls to ensure the protectiveness of the soil remedy, limit groundwater use and protect residents from exposure to contamination.

The East Helena site was added to EPA’s National Priorities List as a Superfund site in 1984.