Spruced up Stimson site

After taking its share of blows, Bonner is getting some good news this month. Less than a week after Stimson Lumber Co. announced that it will pay to clean up toxic contaminants on its shuttered mill site—a significant barrier to any new investment—Missoula real estate developer Scott Cooney says he's prepared to purchase a portion of the property.

"We have a buy-sell agreement," Cooney says.

Cooney declined to reveal any details until after the deal is inked. But if all goes as planned, his portion of the old mill site—an undisclosed chunk of the 170-acre parcel—will likely stay industrial. The developer says he aims to use the property, at least in part, to process forest products, beef up the local economy and create jobs.

"That's first and foremost," he says of job creation.

Cooney's announcement comes as Stimson Lumber signs off on a commitment to spend $6 million cleaning up 85,000 cubic yards of toxic byproducts—that's about 8,500 dump trucks of waste—lingering from wood processing on and around the old mill.

The state Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit in December 2008 asking a Montana District Court judge to force the company to clean up the site.

The news comes as relief to the community, says Charles Erickson, chairman of the Bonner Milltown Community Council.

"I know everyone in our community would like to see some kind of new industries on that site and new jobs created as soon as possible," he says. "It's real frustrating to our community to see that site just sitting vacant when it has so much potential."

Cooney, too, says he's happy with the cleanup plan. After all, he's got a lot invested in the area. Before the pending deal he owned 116 acres of Stimson's former site—a log yard on the other side of the river—as well as the post office in Bonner and 42 nearby homes.

The Department of Environmental Quality is taking public comment on the proposed cleanup plan through March 31 and will hold a public meeting on March 16 at 7 p.m. at the Bonner School Library.

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