SB315 revisions seek to redefine asbestos advisory team

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Revisions to Senate Bill 315, which in 2017 established the Libby Asbestos Superfund Advisory Team, will be presented by the Montana Environmental Quality Council during Montanaís 2019 legislative session.

ďThe [revised] bill was approved [Sept. 12] and will be submitted to the next legislative session in its current form,Ē Sen. Chas Vincent (R-Libby), council chair and SB315ís sponsor during the 2017 legislative session, said by email.

The revisions resulted from the teamís inability to fill a state-funded staff position that local team members have said should pay more than what the state offered.

The five-person team, formed last May after Gov. Steve Bullock signed SB315 into law, provides oversight of the Libby Asbestos Superfund site as the Montana Department of Environmental Quality assumes management of the site by January 2020.

The five team members are Montana DEQ Director Tom Livers, who serves as the team chair; Lincoln County Commissioner Mark Peck; Rep. Steve Gunderson (R-Libby); Vincent; and Lincoln County citizen George Jamison.

The staff position, called a liaison, was intended to coordinate among county, state and federal agencies and to report to the advisory team. Though Lincoln County was tasked with recruiting, the person was to be an employee of the DEQ.

Two rounds of applicants produced only one far-and-away preferred candidate, who sought $10,000 more than the maximum $64,850 the jobís classification allows.

The pay issue was raised at a quarterly meeting of the Advisory Team on June 28 in Libby. Peck asserted at the time that the job as described didnít exist within the stateís classification system, and that it exceeded the expectations of the classification it was placed in.

Livers responded that he was hesitant to reclassify the job, or to make an exception, due to concern about other state employees doing comparable work for less money.

After subsequent discussions, the advisory team proposed changes to SB315 that included eliminating the liaison position, renaming the advisory team as oversight committee, and assigning the oversight committee new roles and responsibilities, including those that had been expected of the liaison.

The revisions were drafted by Joe Kolman, the Environmental Quality Councilís legislative environmental analyst, presented to the council on Sept. 12, and accepted as presented.

Vincent, whose second term ends later this year, wrote that he assigned the bill to fellow council member Gunderson to carry.

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