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EPA calls numbers good for 2009 cleanup

by Brad FuquaWestern News
| November 30, 2009 11:00 PM

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Mike Cirian reported exceptional numbers for the now-completed 2009 season. In fact, the amount of contaminated soil removed from Libby-area properties doubled when compared to the previous year.

The EPA and its contractors did cleanup projects on 159 properties this year – 10 more than 2008 – and removed 103,667 cubic yards of soil.

“That’s 10,000 truckloads of soil – going back to the mine,” Cirian said. “To me, that’s just amazing. Of course, 21,000 yards was the golf course … but we had large removal numbers this year.”

In 2008, the soil removal number came in at about 49,000 cubic yards.

In addition, Cirian reported improving numbers for the costs of cleanups. Although he didn’t have specific figures, he was confident that the cost for 2009 will be less than the previous year.

“We have about 75 PDIs ready to go for next spring when the weather breaks,” Cirian said. “We’re going to try to get started a little earlier and get some indoor stuff going on.”

In other cleanup news, Cirian said the EPA will be looking at the future of its asbestos cell at the Libby Landfill. Currently, less than half of the cell has been used.

Catherine LeCours, remedial project manager for Troy who works for the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, said it could be possible that contaminated material from Troy will be trucked over to Libby. Another possibility is that the material will remain in the Troy area – an abandoned gravel pit was mentioned. However, a decision will not be finalized until a thorough cost analysis is completed.

“Around 100 (properties) need interiors and a handful need both interior and exterior, and we’re still looking at exteriors,” LeCours said about Troy cleanups. “The numbers are low, which is encouraging, and that’s what we expected.”

LeCours said cleanup efforts in Troy – known as Operable Unit 7 in Superfund references – will be “ramped up” in 2010. She expected to have specific numbers within the next few weeks for planning purposes for next year.

The topic of communicating with the public was also discussed during the EPA’s Nov. 18 meeting with commissioners. Virginia Sloan, an aide to Sen. Jon Tester, said she has been contacted by several Libby residents who feel that the community no longer has a voice when it comes to cleanup concerns.

The City of Libby/Lincoln County Health Board was created with that unifying purpose in mind. However, Sloan said that they are off limits to many because meetings are held during daytime hours.

“They want to participate and understand what the risks are and they need better access,” Sloan said via conference call.

Sloan also said that she believes the EPA needs to be a part of CAG – the Community Advisory Group. Ketellapper disagreed and said that the EPA would participate but that the actual board “needs to be a broad spectrum of the community.” Cirian said that the EPA is willing to hire a facilitator for the group.

Commissioners seemed a little surprised at the comments because none of them had been contacted with those concerns. In addition, interest in CAG had been falling with few people attending and even recent public meetings involving the EPA haven’t drawn much in the area of comments.

“We just don’t see much interest from the public,” commissioner John Konzen said.

Commissioner Marianne Roose said she believes the public has oppportunities to participate. But in addition, she suggested that “an evening meeting occasionally will bring out people who work during the day.”

Commissioners said they would recommend that the next meeting be held in the evening.

Among the other topics discussed:

• Ketellapper said work is moving forward on OU 5 (former Stimson Mill) with a proposed plan expected by next September, and cleanup work, if necessary, to follow in 2011.

• Rebecca Thomas, remedial project manager for four operable units, said Dec. 16 is the deadline for public comments on OU 1 (former export plant) and OU 2 (former screening plant). She hopes to have a Record of Decision signed and done by February or March 2010. Ketellapper added that the EPA is “meeting with the city and making a lot of progress but we have some tough issues to work with.”

• When the ROD is signed, Konzen asked about the possibility of a high-profile media event in an attempt to relay a more positive community image. Senators could attend while on break in the spring or late summer, and other EPA notables could also take part. Ketellapper said such an event could be a possibility but would depend on how everything moves forward.

• The EPA plans to hold its 2010 construction plan meeting for the public in February.