Missoula County and Gov. Brian Schweitzer's administration agree that the 3,200-acre Frenchtown mill site northwest of Missoula should be added to the Superfund National Priorities List, and it's expected to happen soon.
The site holds a soup of contaminants left behind by a half-century of papermaking. In a Nov. 29 letter from the Missoula Board of County Commissioners to Schweitzer and Department of Environmental Quality Director Richard Opper, the commissioners said that after reviewing the results of the Environmental Protection Agency's recent 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."
The letter came two days after the EPA wrote to Schweitzer requesting consent for a Superfund listing, which Schweitzer is expected to grant before Dec. 21, the day by which the agency asked for a response.
"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 Opper.
The commissioners' letter says they're especially concerned about the former Smurfit-Stone site's 138 acres of sludge ponds and landfillscontaminated with toxins such as dioxins, furans, arsenic, chromium, lead and methylphenollocated within the Clark Fork River's floodplain. "These areas are at risk of a catastrophic release by a large flood," wrote commissioners Bill Carey, Michele Landquist and Jean Curtiss.
The three commissioners also noted the "critical importance" of the EPA and DEQ working closely with the property's new owners to facilitate redevelopment. In mid-2011, M2 Green Redevelopment, LLC, a subsidiary of the Illinois-based Green Investment Group, Inc., acquired the mill from Smurfit-Stone for about $19 million. The company owns seven former Smurfit-Stone properties in the United States and Canada.
Peter Nielsen from the Missoula City-County Health Department says the county wants "nothing more than for [the Green Investment Group] to be successful in redeveloping that site and bringing some jobs back to the industrial portion of it. At the same time, we have priorities with regard to protecting public safety and health and restoring the river, and we're going to stick to those, too."
Under federal Superfund law, the government can sue all prior landowners to pay for the cleanup.
Ray Stillwell, the president of the Green Investment Group, says he and business partner Mark Spizzo "are cooperating in every way possible with the EPA."