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From black slag heaps to sand traps in Anaconda

Montana State Roundup

October 1, 1997

From black slag heaps to sand traps in Anaconda

The first Anaconda smelter opened in 1884 and the last closed nearly 100 years later in 1980, leaving a scarred landscape and a troubled economy in the town of 8,000. When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designated the smelter a Superfund site in 1983, owner Atlantic Richfield Co. (ARCO), the EPA, state environmental officials and the community found a creative alternative to simply recovering the land. They devised an economic development tool in the form of a golf course to create jobs and bring visitors to Anaconda.

No other Superfund site in the country has been put back into use for economic development, says Sandy Stash, vice president of Environmental Services for ARCO in Anaconda and a member of the Minneapolis Fed's Helena branch board. "The Old Works Golf Course is held as a national Superfund model," Stash adds.

Following years of negotiations and planning, and three years of construction, the course opened this past May. Designed by Jack Nicklaus, the par-72, 18-hole Old Works Golf Course and practice area covers 250 acres and is ringed by a creek and the smelter's historic remains, preserved to commemorate the area's mining heritage.

Smelting wastes are buried beneath 2 inches of crushed limestone, 18 inches of clay and 6 inches of topsoil. The course is landscaped with a natural growth of grasses and shrubs, sprinklers ensure green fairways and greens, and a complex irrigation and drainage system eliminates leaching of affected soils.

"What the golf course has done for Anaconda is it has generated 30 to 35 jobs, brought in excess of $1.2 million in gross revenue to the area and it has increased revenues of local businesses like restaurants, craft stores and gift shops," says Bill Finnegan, board member of the Old Works Golf Course Authority and manager of the First National Bank of Montana's Anaconda office.

Even with a shortened inaugural season, gross revenue predictions are likely to be exceeded by $300,00 to $350,000 for the year. "It's been a real pleasant surprise," Finnegan says. After five to 10 years, the Old Works course is expected to contribute more than $500,000 annually to Anaconda's economy, and profits from the course will be steered to economic development, historic preservation and community beautification programs.

"Anaconda's only growth industry since the smelter closed has been recreation and tourism," Finnegan says, "and the golf course fits right into that." In addition, 90 percent of golf course users were nonlocal people, which may offer incentive for hotel construction adjacent to the course, Finnegan says.

One of the real benefits of a golf course built over mining remains, though, is that the black slag sand traps and bunkers are easier to play out of than regular sand traps because the balls don't sink, according to designer Nicklaus.

Kathy Cobb