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At what cost?

| June 9, 2006 12:00 AM

The halting for the city water line to the Riverpark area on Tuesday presents a serious dilemma that could prove economically costly to individuals, contractors and local government.

City crews were extending a water line to the park sitting on the banks of the Kootenai River. While cutting through the property that once was home to the Zonolite and W.R. Grace export plant, the workers cut into a thick layer of vermiculite left behind even though this property was cleaned.

Now I know that it is virtually impossible to remove all the vermiculite from the community but let's look at the cost. There is the obvious health risk that will continue to exist when people expose vermiculite left behind. And we know, by example, that not everyone is going to do the right thing to protect themselves, their workers and the public.

City crews immediately notified the Environmental Protection Agency of their discovery and work halted. But at what economic cost? Will this further delay installation of a sprinkler system and grass at the riverside park a short distance away? That cost is minor. What if a private individual is building a residence or a commercial operation and something similar happens? It could be a sizeable delay to the project and add to the expense.

The EPA is proposing a permanent position to deal with people remodeling or digging into left-behind vermiculite deposits. But is that going to be adequate? One person can't solve the problem occurring to the city's water line efforts. He could advise the city, or a business owner or a residential owner that they need to hire a certified asbestos abatement contractor, or they need to take specified steps to do it themselves. But at what time and monetary cost?

Will we have to build in asbestos-related costs into every building project in the community?

Frankly, it doesn't sound like Libby will be as safe as we were led to believe back when Gov. Judy Martz asked the EPA to use the so-called one-time silver bullet on this project. She said that "businesses and homeowners must not be held financially accountable for the costs of cleanup activities."

If the EPA only takes the top 12-18 inches of contaminated soil off a piece of property, leaving the deeper contamination — than there will be a continuing cost to this community everytime somebody proposes to add to their home, business or we undertake a public project on previously contaminated land.

Back on Dec. 20, 2001, Gov. Martz said, "A new day is dawning in Libby. It will dawn on the strengths of the people that call this town home."

We need to make sure some of those strong people attend Tuesday night's meeting and broker a deal with the EPA that is both safer and more economical for all of our futures.

The meeting is at the Memorial Center from 6-8 p.m. — Roger Morris