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Superfund priorities 2008, who really decides

by Carol Holoboff Western News
| September 19, 2007 12:00 AM

Editor's Note: This is Part one of a four part series looking into the Project Priority Matrix developed by Paul Peronard to assist the community as it weighs the decisions about allocation of $17,000,000 budgeted cleanup in Libby for 2008.

On Friday, Sept. 7, The Western News ran an advertisement asking individuals in the community to come to a Community Advisory Group meeting on Sept. 13 to learn what tasks remain to be done and how the Environmental Protection Agency rates each task. The meeting was to be a chance for the public to vote on how they think the budgeted money should be allocated in the coming year. The advertisement read, in large letters, "you MUST attend the Community Advisory Group meeting" to participate.

There were only a few, if any, new faces in the Ponderosa Room at the Libby City Hall on Sept. 13. The CAG (Community Advisory Group) board members and the audience consisted of the regulars who played their assigned roles as usual.

Paul Peronard, EPA on scene coordinator for region 8, distributed hard copies of a matrix he developed to explain the variables to be considered when making the cleanup decisions in 2008. Clinton Maynard used up a large amount of the meeting time with requests that the board demand enough money from EPA to effectively clean up everything, as he stated was promised by Senator Baucus. Gordon Sullivan, technical advisor, said even if more money was forthcoming it would probably not be available for the next fiscal year.

Leroy Thom said he thought the reason that people did not come to the well advertised meeting was because they had been to one CAG and seen how the meetings go and would not come back. Rita Windom supported the idea for Paul Peronard to go into the community to present the matrix to small groups such as the Chamber of Commerce. After more than the usual time spent in discussion, Bill Patton said the group may never come to a consensus, however, a decision was made to hold an independent town meeting in November after board members have had a chance to talk with people in Libby about the issue.

The areas of cleanup in the handout competing for funding money are:

1. Properties, where people of all ages face potential exposure with a highly variable durations. Economic Value is High

2. Creeks, where material contains high level of asbestos and exposure is mostly to children in the summer. Economic Value is Low.

3. CVCC, where tee boxes of the original nine holes have vermiculite as a drainage layer. Exposure to mowers and golfers is issue. Economic Value is High.

4. Troy, where some of the properties might have higher potential for exposure than those in Libby. Economic value is High.

Sullivan asks if the issue is risk and safety versus economic restoration and revitalization. If the decisions are not based on risk, what is the use of risk assessments? Sullivan also wonders if the EPA has become a "cash cow" or a "pork belly" in Libby. "If the EPA, by law, cannot improve a piece of property during restoration, then how can the EPA improve on the economical condition of a community? Libby was economically in trouble before EPA came to town," said Sullivan.

A town meeting is going to take place in November. Before a voting, the citizens of Libby have the right to have the issues presented in an identical format to everyone. This series will offer those individuals with investments in the outcome of the vote a chance to share their views.