Missoula County and the Schweitzer administration agree that the 3,200-acre Frenchtown mill site northwest of Missoula, which holds a soup of contaminants left behind by a half-century of papermaking, should be added to the Superfund National Priorities List, and it's expected to happen soon.
In a Nov. 29 letter (PDF) from the Missoula Board of County Commissioners to Gov. Brian Schweitzer and Department of Environmental Quality Director Richard Opper, the commissioners said that after reviewing the results of the Environmental Protection Agency's recent site investigation, "We believe that this is the next logical step to ensure that the parties responsible for the site contamination are required to complete necessary remedial investigation and cleanup."
Proposed NPL listing of portions of the site would also provide the property owners and other responsible parties an opportunity to negotiate an agreement for investigation and cleanup. Superfund listing would provide necessary oversight, ensure public involvement, remove uncertainties regarding environmental liability and allow redevelopment of the property, while alleviating the need to spend taxpayer dollars on future cleanup.
The letter came two days after the EPA wrote to Gov. Schweitzer (PDF) requesting consent for a Superfund listing, which Schweitzer's expected to grant.
"The data is clearly there to justify the listing and the community supports it, so I don't see any obstacles to the state giving its consent," says DEQ Director Richard Opper.
Agreement puts trapping off-limits in area of Montana national forest
The Bass Creek Recreation Area in the Bitterroot National Forest gets the second highest number of visitors in the forest in Montana each year, and as of Thursday, the 1,600-acre recreation area is officially a trapping-free zone.
Ravalli Republic; Nov. 30
Montana governor urges President not to order releases from Fort Peck Dam
Gov. Brian Schweitzer wrote a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to resist calls to increase releases from the Fort Peck Dam to help bolster river flows in the Mississippi River, and the Montana governor said no matter whether the problem is too much or too little water, there always is a demand to release water from Fort Peck.
Billings Gazette; Nov. 30
One of the things the Indy reported in April after researching Green Investment Group, Inc., the company that acquired the Frenchtown mill, is that the Illinois-based paper-mill scrapper and redeveloper often finds itself embroiled in litigation.
Wouldn't you know it, our story then ended up in a lawsuit.
In June 2011, Washington-based VanTek, Inc., a supplier of used paper mill equipment, sued GIGI for breach of contract. About two years earlier, VanTek, owned by Gordon Cassie, signed an agreement with GIGI to partner in buying former paper mills, creating a company called VanGreen. VanTek claimed it spent 18 months working to acquire the Frenchtown mill through VanGreen only to have GIGI pull out of their agreement at the last minute and acquire it separately. VanTek said GIGI exploited its expertise.
But VanTek pulled the suit, because, as VanTek's attorney wrote in an email to GIGI's attorney, it "appears that GIGI is headed for insolvency and will likely never be able to pay back any judgment."
Cassie forwarded that email to the Indy, and we included it in our story.
Cassie regrets sending it. GIGI subsequently filed a claim of civil contempt, arguing that Cassie erred in reviewing confidential financial materials, and then "deriving an opinion from those confidential financial materials, and then disclosing and disseminating that opinion to third parties, including a reporter for the Missoula Independent newspaper."
Evidently you can't do that. GIGI requested a retraction of the statement. That retraction appeared in the form of a full-page paid advertisement in the Indy on Nov. 1. Cassie said in the ad, "I regret making any statements or any harm that I may have caused."
Days later, GIGI and VanTek settled the suit, which had flipped from GIGI's alleged wrongdoing to VanTek's.
"We are pleased to have settled with VanTek, Inc., in an attempt to undo any potential damage that may have been done to our reputation in the Missoula, Montana region," GIGI President Ray Stillwell said in a statement. "Redeveloping an industrial site in this bleak economy is challenging enough. Add to it mishandled and misinterpreted information communicated to members of the media, and it can add several steps to our progress to bring new jobs to the region."
EPA gives Montana cities, communities time to work on water quality
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has accepted the guidelines for addressing water quality issues passed by the Montana Legislature in 2011.
Billings Gazette; Nov. 29
Hurricane Sandy no match for Idaho company's solar lights
While Hurricane Sandy ravaged the electrical grid on the East Coast, the solar-powered light system installed by Boise's Inovus Solar at a marina around New Jersey’s Lake Hopatcong kept on shining, as did other solar systems installed by the Idaho company throughout the East Coast.
Idaho Statesman; Nov. 29
Since U.S. Sen. Jon Tester’s election six years ago, arguably his greatest legislative achievement, however controversial, was the precedent-setting removal of gray wolves from the endangered species list. If it wasn’t evident already, the delisting, which Tester attached as a rider to an unrelated budget bill a year and a half ago, cemented the flat-topped organic farmer as a moderate red-state Democrat eager to broker bipartisan solutions. His reelection earlier in the month appeared to validate that approach.
All signs indicated that Tester would take a significant step toward scoring his second big, bipartisan legislative accomplishment when the Senate voted this week on his Sportsmen’s Act of 2012, a grab-bag of measures intended to enhance hunting and fishing opportunities around the country. Earlier in the month, the Senate had voted 92-5 to end debate on the bill. But on Nov. 26, the Sportsmen’s Act was thwarted by somewhat surprising opposition.
“It’s definitely stalled,” says Robert Saldin, a political science professor at the University of Montana. “There’s not an obvious path forward in the Senate.”
Another federal lawsuit is filed on USFWS's decision on Wyoming wolves
A second coalition of environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over its decision to remove wolves in Wyoming from federal protection, allowing the state to manage the species, although this lawsuit is filed in federal court in Denver, while the first lawsuit was filed in federal court in Washington, D.C.
Great Falls Tribune (AP); Nov. 28
USFWS scales back proposed critical habitat for caribou in Idaho, Wash.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday its proposal to protect 30,100 acres in Idaho's Boundary County and Washington's Pend Oreille County as critical habitat for a small herd of rare woodland caribou, a considerable reduction from the more than 375,000 acres originally proposed.
Idaho Statesman (AP); Nov. 28
Find Rob Brezsny's "Free Will Astrology" online, every Wednesday, one day before it hits the Indy's printed pages.
ARIES (March 21-April 19): “They are trying to make me into a fixed star,” complained religious leader Martin Luther a few centuries ago. “I am an irregular planet.” I invite you to use that declaration as your own in the coming weeks. You have every right to avoid being pinned down, pigeonholed, and forced to be consistent. According to my reading of the astrological omens, you need abundant freedom to mutate your identity. You deserve a poetic license that allows you to play a variety of different roles and explore the pleasures of unpredictable self-expression.
GOP senators block Montana senator's 'Sportsmen's Act of 2012"
Republican senators said measures contained in the Sportsmen's Act of 2012, which contained more than a dozen outdoor-related bills, simply cost too much, and they blocked the bill sponsored by Montana U.S. Sen. Jon Tester on principle.
Ravalli Republic (AP); Nov. 27
Saving Snake River sockeye from extinction a spendy, long-term venture
In 1992, a single Snake River sockeye salmon made the 900-mile swim upriver from the Pacific Ocean to Redfish Lake Creek in Idaho, and since that time, state, federal and tribal agencies have poured $40 million into saving the species.
Spokane Spokesman-Review; Nov. 25
In August 2009, the Montana Mountain Bike Alliance hosted its second annual backcountry festival in the tiny town of Lima, population 250. Roughly 150 cyclists from across the region showed up to trek along singletrack in the Lima Peaks by day and party by night. The MMBA brought in a band. Bikers sponsored a spaghetti dinner, even rented local buses for shuttles. All told, the event raised nearly $1,000 for Lima’s assisted living center. Locals thanked the MMBA for the biggest economic boost in Lima in a decade.
Bob Allen, MMBA’s co-president, told the story to members of the Blackfoot Challenge during a recent meeting at the Lubrecht forestry center. It’s a prime example, he said, of the kind of contribution mountain bikers bring to small communities in Montana. It’s also a prime example of why the MMBA wants to see a portion of the Scapegoat wilderness addition boundary contained in Sen. Jon Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act altered. Mountain bikers have lost access to hundreds of miles of trails across Montana and Idaho in recent years, partly due to a new Forest Service philosophy banning bicycles in certain areas that could theoretically be designated wilderness. Allen is drawing the line in the Scapegoat.
“Cyclists support over 600,000 acres [of wilderness] in Tester’s bill,” Allen said. “The remaining 2 percent are places that we still want to talk about subtle adjustments, different ways to protect it. The Blackfoot landscape is one of those 2 percent.”
Allen went on to highlight a series of loop trails in the Monture Creek area of the Blackfoot watershed accessed via the Lake Creek trailhead. If the current FJRA wilderness boundaries pass, the Lake Creek trail will be cut in half, blocking bikers from trails they’ve ridden and maintained for 20 years. MMBA’s solution appears simple on paper: Expand the existing Otatsy Recreation Management Area to include those trails, and insert language into the FJRA allowing local Forest Service officials to explore replacement trail opportunities. The group had some success getting Sen. Max Baucus to include similar language in his Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act. Allen feels bikers just didn't have a strong voice in the FJRA discussion.
“If this bill passes,” Allen said, “it prevents bikes from going any farther up that [Lake Creek] drainage. So as it stands now, we have a motorized snowmobile play area...up the drainage that bicyclists will not be able to access because of the boundary in this bill.”
Allen added that he raised these concerns with Tester directly during a meeting in Washington, D.C., but the senator suggested that such a wilderness boundary adjustment should come from the broader community. He then shifted the discussion back around to Lima. In 2010, the town begged MMBA to host another festival. Allen had to decline. The 2009 Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest Plan had closed the Lima Peaks trails to mountain bikers.
Note: This story was updated Monday afternoon.
Some components of 'Sportsmen's Act' concern environmental groups
Today, the U.S. Senate will vote on, and likely pass, Montana U.S. Sen. Jon Tester's "Sportsmen's Act of 2012," a grab bag of bills dealing with hunting, fishing, conservation and public access measures, but environmental groups said there are problems with some of the measures, including one that would preclude the EPA from banning the use of lead in ammunition.
Washington Post; Nov. 25
N.D., Montana oil booms fuel business for railroads in the West
North Dakota is second to only Texas in U.S. oil production, and with more oil being pulled out of the Bakken formation in Montana as well, railroads are hauling more oil to Washington state, where refiners are ramping up capacity.
Seattle Times; Nov. 26
Mississippi company to build oilsands components in Montana plant
Yates Construction, a Mississippi-based company, has announced plans to build a factory in Bynum to make components needed by oilsands operators in Alberta, giving Montana a second manufacturing facility tied to oilsands production.
Great Falls Tribune; Nov. 24
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Don't forget about Crickets!