As Stimson Lumber Company prepares to tackle cleanup efforts at its shuttered Bonner Mill this September, the company is instigating another round of legal wrangling. The Oregon-based company filed a lawsuit against the property's former owner July 26 in Missoula District Court seeking to recoup costs of excavating a contaminated cooling pond and berm that extends from the mill into the Blackfoot River.
Testing conducted by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) unearthed unhealthy concentrations of hydrocarbons and PCB's in cooling pond sediments. Health experts say the chemical, which was outlawed in this country in 1979, may cause cancer and skin and liver damage in humans.
In 2008, DEQ found Stimson responsible for excavation costs. The Montana Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit against the company in December 2008, aiming to force Stimson to remove the berm. In February this year, Stimson pledged more than $6 million toward clearing out 85,000 cubic yards of toxic byproducts—about 8,500 dump trucks of waste—that linger in and around the old mill.
Stimson now asserts that it's getting stuck with a tab that it didn't rack up. The company's lawsuit states the site's former owners, Anaconda Company and Champion International Corporation, which was subsequently acquired by International Paper Company, leaked PCBs into the environment. According to the suit, when Stimson bought the Bonner site from Champion/IPC in 1993, industrial chemicals were visibly pooling on site. At the time, Stimson stipulated in the purchase agreement that Champion/IPC clean the visible chemical spills before the deal closed. Stimson now says IPC should be held liable for a portion of remediation costs.
"IPC has been unjustly enriched as a result of Stimson's act of incurring more than its fair share of this liability," alleges the lawsuit.
IPC's communications director Patty Neuhoff says the company is looking into Stimson's allegations. "We're reviewing the complaint and evaluating the claims," she says.
Stimson attorney Stephen R. Brown, who is based in Missoula, says the company isn't trying to stall remediation efforts. And DEQ attorney Katherine Haque-Hausrath says cleanup is still on track to begin this fall.
"DEQ's position is that legally it wouldn't affect the cleanup," she says.