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Commissioners tell EPA to expedite decision on cleanup

| June 16, 2006 12:00 AM

Following up on Tuesday's public meeting, the Lincoln County Commissioners on Wednesday urged Environmental Protection Agency assistant regional administrator Max Dodson to expedite the issuance of the agency's record of decision for its Libby cleanup activities and stressed to Dodson that the people he heard from at the meeting don't represent the community as a whole.

Commissioner John Konzen told Dodson that Libby still suffers from the stigma attached to the asbestos cleanup and asked for a quick ROD process. People who told Dodson not to rush the ROD aren't representative of most area residents, Konzen said.

"That wasn't the community sitting there last night," he said. "I think the majority of the community would like to see a ROD in a lot more of an expedient manner."

Dodson agreed that he would like to see the ROD issued as quickly as possible, adding that he would like to have seen it "years ago."

Konzen also raised concerns about the cleanup of the central maintenance building on the former Stimson mill site, now managed by an industrial district as an economic development incubator. While a portion of the building has been cleaned, two years ago Jim Christiansen — then local project manager for the EPA — said the rest would have to wait for the ROD, Konzen said. Christiansen has since left the EPA, and Konzen said that could set the cleanup back even more.

"It hurts," Dodson said. "I've got to agree, it hurts."

Konzen said he received a letter from Christiansen "that it's OK" for people to be in the building, but he's still concerned about safety.

"So we've got a building rented out that I've got questions about," he said.

Commissioner Rita Windom handed Dodson a letter detailing several issues she would like to see addressed. One concerned an ambient air report that Windom felt had been sitting too long in EPA hands.

"We need the information — good, bad or indifferent — now," she said.

Windom asked to have the report by July 11, and Dodson assured her she would have it "long before that."

Windom also expressed concerns about changes being made to post-cleanup letters sent to property owners to provide assurances that their property is clean. She said she's worried about too many questions arising about what is clean or safe and what is not.

"I don't want to go back to '99 or 2000," she said.

She said she's afraid the EPA is giving too much attention to "silly things."

The EPA has to be careful about the wording of the letters, Dodson said. He said people want unequivocal answers, but that isn't possible. He compared it to asking, "If I drive I-90 in a snowstorm, am I safe."

"It's almost something that you have to decide for yourself," he said.

Rita told Dodson he's been getting comments from "a select group of people," not the community at large, and said she's concerned about people "stirring the pot" and moving things backward instead of forward.