Owners of the Columbia Falls Aluminum Company announced Tuesday they are permanently closing their aluminum reduction plant on the banks of the Flathead River.
The plant, located just north of Columbia Falls, has been at the center of a debate over whether the facility should be listed as a Superfund site under the National Priorities Listing. The plant’s closure will likely open up the possibility of an environmental cleanup in the coming years.
The site’s owner, Glencore, a Swiss commodities firm, has never explained what it wishes to do with the site, and while company officials say they are committed to a “long term, sustainable solution” for the shuttered plant, they have opposed Superfund listing.
Both U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, and Gov. Steve Bullock recently sent letters to officials urging the Environmental Protection Agency to list the plant on the Superfund Program’s National Priority List.
Tester and Bullock sent the letters after negotiations broke down between CFAC, Glencore and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality over how to proceed with remediation and assessment of the site.
In an emailed statement on Tuesday, Tester said it’s time to move forward with cleanup after years of unnecessary delays and empty promises from Glencore.
“Glencore spent years stringing the community of Columbia Falls along about the future of CFAC, and today it finally cut the strings,” Tester said. “Now it’s time to clean up the site, ensure CFAC workers are treated fairly and use the area to invest in the future of Columbia Falls.”
The plant operated from 1955 to 2009 and at its peak employed 1,500 people. Since 2009, a handful of employees have remained on site to maintain the mothballed, 800-acre facility, which sits on a 2,500-acre property.
“While this decision marks the end of aluminum production in Montana, it also paves the way for the possibility of finding alternative uses for this strategic property,” company officials said in a press release. “The decision to permanently close was a difficult one, but after deep consideration, management is confident it is in the best interests of the community.”
In the March 3 press release, the company stated that as part of the closure it would demolish certain structures on the site. It added that it would comply with all rules and regulations to ensure the looming environmental cleanup was done safely.
“We look forward to working through this next chapter in as timely a manner as possible and helping bring new industry to Columbia Falls,” officials concluded in their statement.