Cleanup distracts from cleanup 

The major cleanup proposed for the Missoula Sawmill Site—where a century of operations have left 45 acres west of McCormick Park poisoned—went up in smoke when a fire swept through the old truck-bed factory building Aug. 16. Fiery embers first threatened nearby houses, and in following days concern again trained on the embers, which, though cool, carried asbestos. Workers in white haz-mat suits picked through yards, gathering chunks of ash and taking air samples, and the health department dispatched leaflets warning residents.

Lost in the rush was talk about the bigger project, a voluntary cleanup of the site. A meeting Aug. 18 was scheduled to unveil the area’s reclamation plan, but after a brief presentation by Chris Cerquone, senior scientist with Geomatrix Consultants, talk turned to the immediate asbestos concerns and never made it back to the comprehensive cleanup.

The site, which housed a lumber mill and related operations from 1900 through 1992, has soil contaminated with lead, petroleum, degreaser, wood waste and explosive gas, and has groundwater with elevated levels of manganese, which tastes and smells bad but doesn’t pose a health risk. Under the proposed plan, Geomatrix Consulants—which is contracted by Millsite Revitalization Project, the company tackling the overall project—would remove contaminated soil and use vapor extraction systems in remaining hot spots, install groundwater monitoring and create restrictive covenants for future development. The cleanup meets residential standards, Cerquone says, and future residents will get their water from Mountain Water Co.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality has until Sept. 9 to evaluate the plan and could approve it by February. Cleanup, estimated to cost $600,000–$700,000, could begin in the spring.

The meeting was the public’s main chance to weigh in or ask questions about the cleanup portion of the project, although the DEQ will accept written comments once it evaluates the plan. Future public meetings will address other parts of the project—Aug. 25 will focus on the city’s annexation of the site, and redevelopment is the topic Sept. 14. Both meetings are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the Senior Citizens Center, 705 S. Higgins Ave.

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