White Pine Sash awaits DEQ 

In a 10-1 vote Monday night, Missoula City Council bounced a request to re-zone a 19-acre section of the former White Pine Sash mill site back to committee. The vote signaled the Council’s desire for more clarity from Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), and for some—who support a residential-grade cleanup of the polluted industrial site—stronger reasoning to deny rezoning it.

“I think we need to sort out where DEQ is on this,” Mayor John Engen said in support of the motion, noting no official DEQ presence at the meeting and numerous lingering issues requiring the state agency’s input.

Many agreed, including Ward 3 Councilman Bob Jaffee. “It’s about the zoning change to preclude residential development,” Jaffee said. “It’s about if testing standards stay at the industrial, commercial standard, or if they’re at the residential. Something leading to a lesser cleanup is not acceptable.”

Scott Street Partners, the parcel’s current owners, asked the city Planning Board back in April to rezone it from D-Industrial to I-Light Industrial. The rezoning would preclude future residential development, consequently allowing for more relaxed environmental standards and significantly reduced cleanup costs. The Planning Board denied the request 7-2. As a matter of course, however, the request moved to Council’s docket.

Huttig Building Products–which bears responsibility for the toxic waste at White Pine Sash—has presented a cleanup plan for the site that would meet standards for a commercial, i.e. non-residential property. Since the current industrial zoning allows for residences, that plan won’t fly with DEQ. Rezoning to light industrial would change that. The DEQ continues developing its own comprehensive cleanup plan, slated for an early 2009 release. Until then, Engen says the Council will seek more specific input from the DEQ to “know more about what it is we’re denying.” But some wonder if this clarity will have much effect on a future vote.

“It probably wouldn’t have passed tonight,” Ward 3 Councilwoman Stacey Rye said, “and the developers should take notice.”
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