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EPA award recognizes Libby

by Benjamin Kibbey Western News
| November 30, 2018 3:00 AM

The Environmental Protection Agency gave special recognition Thursday to the community and those who were involved in the cleanup of the Superfund site from the W.R. Grace Vermiculite mine.

Doug Benevento, EPA Regional Administrator for Region 8, commented on the resiliency of the community.

The awards come as the EPA works to close out the Superfund site.

During a meeting with Lincoln County Commissioner Mark Peck Thursday morning, Benevento and Mike Cirian, the EPA’s site manager for Libby, discussed plans to transition toward a final Operation and Maintenance plan by January 2020.

They also discussed the removal of the operational units — including OU1, the location of Riverfront Park in Libby — from the Superfund designation.

The work done at Riverfront Park was cited in the nomination by Benevento for Libby to receive an Environmental Achievement Award from the EPA.

According to a memorandum from the EPA, the award is given to “recognize significant achievement in the protection of public health or the environment, or in advancing the (EPA’s) strategic goals.”

The 17 acre OU1 former plant site along the Kootenai River was used by W.R. Grace for storing vermiculite before shipping.

The EPA began working with Libby in 2009 on finding a new purpose for the site.

Working with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, Lincoln County and federal, state and local entities, they turned the weed-filled stretch of land into a park that now regularly plays host to community events, Benevento noted.

Riverfront Park has become a jewel for Libby, he said.

“To see what it’s become today just amazes me,” said Libby Mayor Brent Teske.

Teske remarked on how often the park is used, and said he regularly hears comments from people who attend events from out of town who are impressed with the park facilities.

Teske reiterated the commitment the city and the community have to maintain and improve the park in the future.

Teske also called out some of the people who have played a part over the years in making the park what it is today.

He gave special credit to the former members of the Libby City Council who began the work, and called up some of the people present who had helped over the years, including former council members DC Orr and Robin Benson, current council member Peggy Williams and City Administrator Jim Hammons.

Benevento also complimented the Lincoln County Commissioners for coming to him with clear goals for what they wanted to see accomplished with all of the Superfund site.

In addition to the Environmental Achievement Award, the EPA also gave out certificates recognizing the contributions of other agencies and organizations. They are: the Libby Parks Committee, Flathead Electric Cooperative, David Thompson Search and Rescue, Society of American Foresters, BNSF Railway, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, Montana Department of Environmental Quality, U.S. Forest Service – Kootenai National Forest, and United States Army Corps of Engineers – Omaha District.

They also recognized Environmental Restoration LLC and CDM Smith for over 1 million man hours without any workday loss due to accident or injury.