Baucus guns for brownfield funds 

Funding brownfields

Last week’s passage of a bill sponsored by U.S. Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.) creating a fund to clean up so-called “brownfield” sites across the nation may eventually provide aid for some of the lingering industrial messes around Missoula.

According to Chris Cerquone of the Missoula Department of Environmental Health, two local projects already funded by brownfield grants stand a much better chance of being continued should the brownfield bill become law.

Work at the former Champion sawmill along the riverfront and the defunct White Pine Sash Site on Missoula’s Northside could continue as planned. “We anticipate that money will be easier to get,” Cerquone says. “It might come back community in a big way. We had already applied for and received a brownfield grant in ’98 or ’99, and we’ve just about spent all that. The process to apply for a new grant was looking very competitive, and we were not even going to try to reapply. We thought we’d have to look to other sources, but if this bill passes with no changes, we should be able to continue with the work we’ve started.”

Baucus, a senior member of the Senate’s Environmental and Public Works Committee, hails the passage of the bill as a shot in the arm for Montana communities. “I’m pleased that this bill passed with complete support in the Senate,” Baucus says. “It will greatly improve Montana’s quality of life, and create jobs by taking sites that are wastelands and turning them into valuable assets to Montana communities.”

Though the bill breezed through the Senate by a 99-0 vote, Montana’s lone Democratic representative in Washington was not stepping on the toes of any Bush administration officials by sponsoring the bill. Bush actually made brownfield money a promise before he was elected. Such sites, found mostly in urban settings, are likely to be those that generate the least controversy, according to guidelines set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “It’s kind of the EPA’s answer to not being able to clean up sites,” says Cerquone, noting that brownfield clean-up comes in the form of grants and loans and without the authority of the EPA to implement more aggressive strategies for contaminated sites.

Still, Cerquone is optimistic that some federal dollars may wind up playing a role in a bigger and more controversial project close to home—the proposed Two Rivers Restoration project, which would tear down Milltown Dam and restore the confluence of the Blackfoot and Clark Fork rivers. “The way the bill is written, money for Superfund sites may be easier to get,” Cerquone predicts. “Some money could go for sediment removal or other phases of dam removal, if that’s what’s decided needs to be done.”

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