Wiping up White Pine

Long-time Northside advocate Bob Oaks worries that a cleanup plan for decontaminating the 43-acre White Pine and Sash Superfund site rolled out last week by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality will hurt the surrounding area.

"I don't think it's a decision in the best interest of the neighborhood, or the Missoula community," Oaks says.

For nearly two decades a debate has raged over how best to remediate the historic Scott Street property. Between 1920 and 1996, the site housed a bustling manufacturing operation called White Pine and Sash, which used petroleum products and pentachlorophenol, often called penta or PCP, to treat wood products in underground vats. The Environmental Protection Agency says PCP is a likely carcinogen.

In 1994, the state found that PCP lingered in the soil and groundwater and declared White Pine and Sash a Superfund site. Two years later, White Pine's owner, Huttig Building Products, shuttered the operation, selling off pieces of the property to Zip Beverage and the Scott Street Partners investment group. The city of Missoula later purchased 15.5 acres from Scott Street. The three stakeholders each donated one acre to create a city park.

Since the '90s, Oaks and many of his neighbors have urged the DEQ to require the land be remediated to a "residential standard," one more stringent than the the agency's "commercial/industrial standard." A residential-grade cleanup, Northsiders say, would allow for mixed use, rather than pigeonholing the property forever as an industrial parcel.

Despite neighborhood advocacy, the DEQ recommended a commercial cleanup. The agency estimates remediation will cost Huttig, which bears financial liability for the contamination, $7.9 million. The agency will not make a final decision on cleanup standards until after it evaluates public comments.

Scott Graham with the DEQ says that the agency weighed many variables while formulating its recommendation, including plans from White Pine property owners on how they hope to use the site. "When we sorted it all out," he says, "it really pointed to the commercial industrial use in the future."

In response to concerns from locals like Oaks, Mike Stevenson from Scott Street Partners says the DEQ's proposal is pragmatic in light of the property's past. "It's been used that way for 100 years or more," he says.

The DEQ is hosting a public meeting at 5:30 p.m. on March 11 to discuss its proposal. The agency will accept public comment on the cleanup until March 30.

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