County seeks answers, written assurances from EPA

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The Lincoln County Commissioners and the City-County Board of Health are collaborating on a letter to the EPA, requesting a written commitment to promises made by Doug Benevento, EPA Regional Administrator for Region 8, during discussions in November, and seeking answers about an apparent move by the EPA disregarding county input.

On Wednesday during the commissioner’s regular meeting, commissioner Mark Peck discussed the verbal assurances that Benevento made to the county in November.

Benevento said that the remaining WR Grace settlement — which EPA site manager Mike Cirian estimated in November would come to between $5 and $15 million — would be set aside for future abatement, rather than being absorbed into the EPA’s funds.

He also assured Peck at their November meeting that future abatement such as expenses related to remodels of properties where asbestos was left in the walls would not fall on property owners.

Peck had said in the past that he was concerned significant costs for abatement during something such as a remodel could lead some property owners to simply bag up asbestos and send it to the landfill rather than properly disposing of it.

Under Benevento’s assurances, homeowners would still be responsible for renovation costs. However, they would not bear any additional cost realized due to the asbestos that was left behind during the original abatement.

On Wednesday, Peck said that the county would like to see clarification in the Record of Decision that homeowners are not responsible for “legacy material” left behind in their homes.

In November, Benevento said that he wanted to see his assurances “memorialized” in a written record to assure as changes happen in the EPA, his assurances are kept by any future administrator.

With Benevento reaching the end of his time at Region 8, Peck told his fellow commissioners that he wanted to send a letter cosigned by the health board, requesting to have Benevento’s assurances “memorialized.”

Additionally, Peck said that he would like to address a new concern: the apparent disregard for the county’s request for additional time to complete the joint site inspection between the EPA, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and the Lincoln County Asbestos Resource Program.

“The whole goal is to make sure that, OK, the remedy is working, and officially move into (operational and functional),” Peck said.

The operational and functional phase involves a year during which plans are tested prior to the long term operation and maintenance phase.

However, Peck said that he received word from board of health Vice Chair George Jamison that the EPA had sent the board a letter indicating that the site would now move into the operational and functional phase despite a request from the county to evaluate 10 additional properties as part of the joint site inspection.

Peck said the the team discovered “quality” issues in some of the properties they had looked at, prompting the request.

A letter from the EPA to DEQ Federal Superfund Bureau Chief Thomas Stoops that the county received Wednesday, states that the joint inspection was completed March 4.

The letter also states that, during the joint inspection, “all agencies determined that construction of the remedy was complete.”

“Well, it isn’t done,” Peck said Wednesday. “We still have ten more properties, we still -- it’s a very disingenuous letter.”

Peck said he felt the letter “blew” off everything that DEQ and Lincoln County had raised as concerns, as the EPA moved ahead regardless.

Turning to fellow commissioner Jerry Bennett, Peck asked, “Is that a good way to put it, Jerry?”

“That’s a nice way to put it,” Bennett responded.

Wednesday night at the regular meeting of the health board, Peck presented a draft letter to health board Chair Jan Ivers and the rest of the board.

All present agreed that Peck and Ivers would work on and cosign the letter. *This article was updated March 15 to correct an error in the original that states “A letter from EPA Federal Superfund Bureau Chief Thomas Stoops.” The letter was sent from the EPA to DEQ Federal Superfund Bureau Chief Thomas Stoops.*

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