Libby Awaits Final Superfund Cleanup Plan

EPA officials say Record of Decision could be issued this month

By Justin Franz

Following the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s release of its Human Health Risk Assessment for the Libby Asbestos Superfund, local officials are awaiting the next piece of a puzzle that will guide the final stages of a decade-long cleanup in that community.

EPA officials in Libby said a final Record of Decision could be issued before the end of December. That document will outline what additional clean up Libby and the surrounding area need before finally getting a clean bill of health.

Meanwhile, local residents are also looking to life after the Superfund and have recently started meeting with a Missoula branding firm to help rebuild Libby’s image.

Both the Record of Decision and the community’s rebranding has been the subject of numerous public meetings. On Nov. 19, local officials met in Helena with representatives of the EPA and Montana Department of Environmental Quality to discuss the Human Health Assessment.

“It was a one-on-one meeting to let them know how we want to move forward,” said Lincoln County Commissioner Mike Cole.

Cole said local officials’ biggest concern is how the future cleanup and institutional controls will be paid for. Once the EPA leaves Lincoln County, institutional controls would guide how someone deals with any asbestos they encounter. Officials have said it’s impossible to eliminate all of the material because it occurs there naturally.

The unprecedented asbestos contaminaion in Libby, which has killed hundreds and sickened thousands, stems from the W.R. Grace & Co. vermiculite mine that operated north of Libby from 1963 to 1990.

“The residents of Lincoln County shouldn’t have to bear the burden of paying for the institutional controls and whatever additional clean up may be required in the future,” Cole said.

Meanwhile, local officials have brought in a Missoula marketing agency, PartnersCreative, to help craft the community’s brand in a post-Superfund world. In late November, six listening sessions were held in Libby and Troy to gather ideas on how to market south Lincoln County to a wider audience, according to PartnersCreative spokesperson Joe Nickell.

“We want to find what Libby’s best assets are and brand those in a way that will best appeal to people who want to live in or visit the area,” Nickell said.

Nickell said the collaboration with Lincoln County and PartnersCreative could result in a new logo or slogan for the community. He said the marketing agency is reviewing the information it gathered in Libby and Troy and hope to come up with a marketing strategy that could be brought to the community in spring 2016.

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