As a lengthy investigation into site contamination continues, demolition crews have leveled a large portion of the 960-acre Columbia Falls Aluminum Company property and continue to slowly remove the leftover waste material known as spent potlining.
Calbag Resources, an Oregon-based contractor, is approaching the final year of its massive task to remove all of the above-ground remnants of the shuttered aluminum plant. Demolition began in May 2015 and is on track to be completed by the end of 2018, according to John Stroiazzo, CFAC project manager.
“We are really getting to a point where you will see significant change at the site,” Stroiazzo said at a public meeting in Columbia Falls on Oct. 5.
“We’re getting very close to the end.”
Among the primary duties remaining, crews are in the process of removing 451 pot liners containing 26,000 tons of K088, a listed hazardous waste. Two pots per day are being shipped off-site to an out-of-state disposal facility that is licensed to handle the hazardous materials.
The pots are expected to be fully removed by the end of November, Stroiazzo said.
At that point, crews will focus on tearing down the remaining structures, including the last portion of what once was the largest single building in Montana. The 1.75-million-square-foot building, stretching 40 acres in the heart of the property, once housed the aluminum reduction cells that created the spent pot lining during the aluminum smelting process.
Stroiazzo said potential suitors have approached CFAC in the last year with interest in new uses at the large, high-powered property.
“People are coming to CFAC with what could be done. We take those questions very seriously and engage those respective folks,” he said.
“So far nobody has offered to set up shop and do business. But we keep the door open.”
Any hesitation about setting up shop likely hinges on the property’s nascent Superfund status. CFAC is entering its second year on the federal Superfund program’s National Priorities List and the Environmental Protection Agency, in partnership with CFAC, is in the early stages of investigating the site to determine the scope of contamination and future cleanup needs.
Roux Associates, a New York-based environmental consulting firm, completed four rounds of seasonal sampling, testing groundwater, surface water, soil and sediment throughout the property. Roux is using 64 monitoring wells to test for contaminants.
Michael Ritorto, a hydrogeologist with Roux, said the results from the four sampling rounds have identified a few specific locations as the primary source of contamination. The highest concentrations of cyanide and fluoride have been observed in and around the west landfill, also known as the west scrubber sludge landfill, and the center landfill. Varying amounts of contamination has been identified flowing in the groundwater down gradient from those landfills, moving south toward Flathead River. The concentrations near the river are well below the EPA mandated benchmark, Ritorto said.
The surface water samples identified two “low level detections” in Cedar Creek on the west side of the property during the first and second rounds of sampling, Ritorto said. Those will continue to be evaluated, he said.
Roux Associates will continue sampling for the next two years to collect comprehensive data that gives the EPA a clearer understanding of the entire property and its level of contamination.
EPA project manager Mike Cirian said the Flathead River has changed course at the south end of the property and is causing erosion along the bank. It has recently washed out about 50 feet of riverbank, he said, and is exposing rip rap that was historically used to fortify the land. The river is pushing water toward the south percolation pond and the EPA will work to reinforce the bank to prevent any water from infiltrating the percolation pond, Cirian said.
“We’re trying to fast-track some things to take some action,” he said.
“We don’t want any contamination that might be there shooting down the river.”
The EPA and CFAC plan to host the next public update on the multi-year Superfund program in May 2018.