Columbia Falls Throws Support Behind CFAC Cleanup

By Beacon Staff

The city of Columbia Falls has thrown its support behind a plan to clean up the shuttered Columbia Falls Aluminum Company plant that the Environmental Protection Agency may designate a Superfund site.

On April 21, the Columbia Falls City Council authorized City Manager Susan Nicosia to write a letter to Gov. Steve Bullock and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality asking to support efforts to have the old plant added to the EPA’s National Priorities List.

“We’re in universal support of this cleanup and we want to get the EPA on this project as soon as possible,” said city councilor Mike Shepard, who worked at CFAC in the 1970s. Shepard has called the site a “ticking time bomb.”

On April 15, EPA and DEQ officials held a town hall meeting in Columbia Falls to discuss the results of a recent study that found the land in and around the CFAC plant contaminated with various metals and chemicals, including cyanide and fluoride. Officials at the meeting, including EPA site assessment manager Rob Parker, said there is enough evidence to designate the plant a Superfund site but that it would not move forward without community support. They urged local residents to reach out to their elected leaders to voice their support for the project.

The Anaconda Company opened the CFAC aluminum plant, located just north of Columbia Falls along the Flathead River, in 1955 and the plant operated under various owners until 2009, when the current owner, Glencore, closed it. In the years following the closure, politicians and local leaders have attempted to work out deals with the Swiss commodities firm to reopen the plant, but the site has remained shuttered and many doubt it will ever reopen.

In late 2012, Dee Brown, a Republican state senator from Hungry Horse, went before the Flathead County Commission and said the 120-acre CFAC site should be cleaned up and redeveloped. Soon after, at the urging of Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester, the EPA began studying the site in 2013.

The study found various contaminations around the site, especially in the north and south percolation ponds and the plant’s landfill area. Cyanide, arsenic, lead and fluoride were all found in the groundwater in and around the plant. The EPA also sampled water in five residential wells in a nearby neighborhood, called “Aluminum City,” and cyanide was found in two of the wells. The concentrations in both wells were below the Safe Drinking Water Act’s allowable limits, however it was enough for the EPA to want to take additional samples. The results of those new tests have not yet been produced. When they are, Nicosia says she will author the city’s letter to the state.

“We’re just waiting for the final results,” she said.

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