MISSOULA – Representatives of the Environmental Protection Agency tell Missoula County it might be another two years before they have a clear picture of contamination at the old Smurfit Stone mill site, and that means it might be another three or four years before a cleanup plan is final.
But they assure the county that progress is being made and if major environmental or health risks are discovered, immediate action would be ordered.
That was one of the messages Wednesday afternoon as the EPA, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, county agencies and their respective attorneys updated commissioners.
As sampling, which started three years ago, moves into another season, there’s been some growing local frustration with the pace of that “remedial investigation”, the first phase in the “Superfund” process. The Clark Fork Coalition, in particular, believes there’s enough information to get at least some cleanup underway at the location for the mill’s old landfill.
EPA and DEQ told commissioners they want to proceed as quickly as possible too, but are just getting a picture for the site’s complicated geology and groundwater.
“But we’re at the point, we have five years of monitoring data,” said Montana DEQ hydrologist Sara Edinberg. “And we need to sit down and look at this data and look at what it’s telling us and start looking for trends. You know, are these concentrations going up? Are they going down? Are they related to water levels, you know, seasonal changes in groundwater elevations? That kind of thing.”
“But we’re doing what we can at this part of the Superfund process and keeping it as a high concern of the public and the county going forward,” said EPA Remedial Project Manager Allie Archer. “And we’ll look at any option we can to further characterize using the tools we have in Superfund.”
Commissioners did praise the EPA, saying the agency is doing a much better job of keeping the county informed of the process on the Smurfit cleanup over the past year.
Reporting by Dennis Bragg for MTN News