DEQ Nears Cleanup of Evergreen Superfund Site

By Beacon Staff

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality has extended the public comment period for a $28 million cleanup plan for a state Superfund site in Evergreen, after receiving only two comments, before moving on to the final phases of the decades-long process.

The proposed plan outlines removal methods and cleanup costs for pollution that resulted from operations dating back to the 1930s at the Kalispell Pole and Timber, Reliance Refinery Co. and Yale Oil Corporation sites – entities that no longer exist. The lands, totaling almost 45 acres, are just south of the Stillwater River between Whitefish Stage Road and U.S. Highway 2.

DEQ studies found high levels of PCP, dioxins, petroleum hydrocarbons and lead in soil and groundwater on the site in 2005. Health effects from the contaminants are varied, but can include damage to the immune system, liver, kidneys and central nervous system with long-term or high-intensity exposure.

DEQ’s preferred cleanup plan would include a combination of excavation, offsite disposal and soil and water treatments. Contaminants found in the Stillwater River were not directly related to pollution for the site, and the river will not be part of the cleanup process. The total cost of the cleanup is estimated at $28,496,174.

The plan was selected over other alternatives as the most cost-effective way to reduce risk and allow the property to be used for its expected future commercial and industrial use, Moriah Bucy, a specialist in DEQ’s remediation division, said.

But, so far, few area residents have shown interest in the plan. As of DEQ’s original Jan. 5 deadline for public comment, only Sen. Greg Barkus, R-Kalispell, and a representative of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad had submitted comment. Bucy said several public officials and potentially liable parties attended a December public meeting, but she didn’t think any members of the general public were there.

“I’m pretty sure people, besides those that live right in the area, aren’t aware of this project,” Barkus said. “It’s been 25 years in the works; it’s hard to expect people to follow that.”

The land has been listed as a Superfund site since the 1980s. Barkus said he wrote the DEQ with concerns of how drawn-out the project has become, that testing may have added to the problem and that excavation could contaminate the river. He would like to see the involved parties arrange to move the downtown grain elevator to the site, in order to remove the downtown rail line.

The next step will be a review of public comment and a “record of decision” responding to those comments. If comments don’t significantly alter the plan, DEQ will issue the final decision for cleanup, Bucy said. She said DEQ’s goal is to have the design work for the project completed within one year of the ROD, and start actual cleanup in spring 2009.

But, who will be responsible for paying for that cleanup is still in the air.

DEQ identified seven entities that it is trying to hold responsible for the contamination: the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, Exxon Mobil, Swank Enterprises, Klingler Lumber Co., Montana Mokko, Kalispell Pole and Timber and the BNSF Railroad.

DNRC and Swank Enterprises agreed to pay a combined 29.5 percent of the final remedy cost, and Exxon Mobil settled for $295,000 last year, according to Cindy Brooks, a DEQ attorney. In November, a court decision found BNSF responsible for cleanup on the Kalispell Pole and Timber site, but didn’t address their responsibility for the rest of the property. A trial, scheduled for March 10, will decide any remaining responsibility.

Brooks said it’s unlikely the court’s decision or appeals would hold up the cleanup process further; funds from the settled parties would allow DEQ to start the beginning phases.

DEQ will accept written comments to Moriah Bucy, site project manager, at DEQ-CECRA, P.O. Box 200901, Helena, MT 59620, or by e-mail at [email protected]. Mailed comments must be postmarked by Jan. 12 and e-mails received by 11:59 p.m. on Jan. 12.