DEQ, Dems Call GOP Move to Fund Swank’s Cleanup Costs Bad Precedent

By Beacon Staff

Lee’s Mike Dennison reports on a move by Kalispell Republican Sen. Greg Barkus to insert into the budget bill a provision allowing the state to pay the $600,000 cost of Swank Enterprises’ cleanup at the Kalispell Post and Timber Co. yard. The amendment passed the Senate Finance and Claims committee on an 11-8 party-line vote with all Democrats opposed.

According to Dennison’s story, Barkus argued that Swank, which bears no responsibility for the pollution at the site, agreed to pay 2 percent of the cost on land it purchased there when the estimated cleanup cost was but a fraction of the $32-million current cleanup price tag.

Democrats, however, along with state Department of Environmental Quality Director Richard Opper, say the move sets a bad precedent by letting a private company tap the state for environmental cleanup costs when no legally responsible party exists. The money will come from a state “Orphan Share” account, which is paid for by taxes on metal mines and state oil and gas production.

“This seems to be an arbitrary decision to ignore the longstanding practices (of this account) and let a company come and tap into it,” Opper is quoted as saying. “That opens the door to (any company) being able to apply and not have to pay for their share of the cleanup.”

Democrats who have e-mailed me about the story also note that Republicans on the committee opted to fund Swank’s cleanup while complaining about not having enough cash on hand to expand the Children’s Health Insurance program to the levels set by voter initiative.

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