State Files Lawsuit Against Stimson Lumber

By Beacon Staff

MISSOULA – A state lawsuit against Stimson Lumber Co. seeks removal of a PCB-contaminated berm at a cooling pond along the Blackfoot River in Bonner.

The earthen berm constricts the river’s flow near the site of the Stimson mill that closed recently, according to the lawsuit that Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath filed Wednesday in District Court in Missoula. The constriction changes the natural course of the Blackfoot River and erodes the north bank downstream, the suit says.

McGrath said the lawsuit was filed to ensure the berm is removed before Stimson sells its Bonner property. In August, Oregon-based Stimson announced its intent to sell. The company bought the mill site in 1993 and acquired the cooling pond in the transaction.

When asked about the lawsuit, Stimson Vice President Jeff Webber told the Missoulian the company will continue working with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, the Missoula Area Economic Development Corp. and the governor’s office in an effort to reach an agreement. Webber said Stimson has been “committed to working with the different agencies in Montana to get the cooling pond issue resolved.”

The suit is separate from recent DEQ efforts seeking excavation of contaminated sediment in the cooling pond.

The berm is on a state-owned riverbed and the lawsuit says that for years, Stimson has maintained the berm unlawfully on state land.

“What we’re seeking to accomplish with the lawsuit is that they simply clean it up before they leave Montana and the taxpayers get stuck with the bill,” McGrath said. “They have taken the position that they are not responsible for cleaning up this obstruction.”

An analysis completed in August found that removing the berm and tainted sediment would cost about $6.5 million. DEQ’s Keith Large said removing only the contaminated portion of the berm would weaken it, and the structure could fail.

“We’ve recommended that they remove the entire thing because it’s better for the river,” Large said.