An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) project to apply a spray-on sealant to a streamside levy in northwestern Montana continues to draw complaints from nearby residents, even as it nears completion. The EPA has been applying the chemical Shotcrete to a water barrier along Granite Creek, a Kootenai River tributary near Libby, to help seal a riprap barrier built by the Army Corps of Engineers with asbestos-laden rocks.
According to the EPA, the project aims to prevent the spread of contamination should a major flood event occur. Since bridges in the area were built too low, the agency worries pressure buildup during runoff could force tainted rocks downstream and onto developed properties.
Yet, Gordon Sullivan of Libby—a longtime critic of the EPA’s Superfund remedies in the region—argues project architects dodged public and state agency involvement in the planning process. He, along with various Montana officials, would like to see a longer-term solution in place. The current remedy is only optimistically designed to last 50 years and hardly solves the (literally) underlying contamination problems.
Critics also want to see further review on how the Shotcrete chemicals might affect local bull trout hatcheries.
“It’s like they play God up here,” Sullivan says. “You only learn about something they’re doing by happenstance, and by the time you learn about it, it’s too late to get involved.”
Duc Nguyen, EPA’s project manager, responds the agency fulfilled its review requirements and points out that Shotcrete is not unlike regular concrete, except in the sense it’s sprayed with a pneumatic device.
Hal Harper, chief policy advisor for Gov. Brian Schweitzer, reports he received verbal assurance from the feds that long-term responsibility for the asbestos contamination in Granite Creek remains with the Army Corps.
“We are merely asking for a letter to confirm this and have asked that the EPA maximize the removal of contamination and minimize the use of [Shotcrete],” he says. “We do not want any second-rate cleanups for this community.”
Jim Vashro, fisheries manager at Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, explains that EPA authority supercedes state environmental review and planners need only acquire approval from other federal agencies. His counterpart at U.S. Fish and Wildlife was unavailable for comment as of press time, but the office’s informal review cites no direct, immediate impact on the Kootenai bull trout.