Hazardous Waste Possible at Smurfit-Stone Mill

By Beacon Staff

FRENCHTOWN – Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. should check for hazardous waste before the company follows through with its plan to sell its shuttered Frenchtown paper mill for scrap, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality says.

The agency also said any buyer will share liability for potential cleanup of hazardous waste.

“Before a sale occurs, there should be a comprehensive environmental analysis of the site,” said Richard Opper, state Department of Environmental Quality director. “With an old industrial site that’s been around since the late ’50s, you’re going to have some residual contamination.”

The company last week announced plans to sell the paper mill to MLR Investments LLC, an affiliate of Ralston Investments of Portland, Ore.

Missoula County commissioners said they want the state to make sure an aging system of dikes and levees will prevent five decades of accumulated waste from spilling into the Clark Fork River.

“From our experience with local mills like Stimson (Lumber Co.’s Bonner plywood plant), they tend to leave things behind,” Missoula County Commissioner Jean Curtiss told the Missoulian. “If someone’s going to come in and demolish everything and redevelop, we need to know what’s there.”

Smurfit owns 3,200 acres on about four miles of the Clark Fork River. About 800 acres is taken up with cooling ponds that are in the river’s flood plain. The mill itself sits on about 200 acres, and sludge ponds occupy about 67 acres.

Ralston Investments, according to an internal e-mail obtained by the newspaper, intends to demolish the mill for salvage, and will not restart papermaking.

Company spokesman Ron Megna declined to give additional details, including how much money is being paid for the property.

“I don’t want to jeopardize our deal by giving any more information at this point,” Megna said. “The buyer has expressly told me he wants no more public information being released on this deal.”

Ralston officials, including company owner Tim Ralston, have also declined to comment. However, Ralston’s wife, Lori Ralston, told KECI-TV that the couple plans to turn the area into a farm.

The property comes with rights to millions of gallons of water.

“It’s one of the few existing major water rights that’s available in the Clark Fork for use,” said Peter Nielsen of the Missoula City-County Health Department. “To me, that is a significant issue.”

Missoula’s private water utility, Mountain Water Co. is also interested because of the development potential for housing.

“It’s on our radar screen,” said Ross Miller, the water company’s attorney. “We’re monitoring the situation.”

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