| January 03, 2013

Several months ago, we asked Ray Stillwell, president of the Green Investment Group, about the prospect of the Frenchtown mill, his company's newest asset, being designated a federal Superfund site. He laughed it off, saying, "There's a reason we buy paper mills, as opposed to steel mills."

You'd think $19 million would buy more due diligence.

The 3,200-acre site along the Clark Fork River northwest of Missoula is, evidently, a bigger mess than any of the other six former Smurfit-Stone properties the Illinois-based Green Investment Group owns. Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency reported that the site contains soil, groundwater, sludge and wastewater ponds contaminated with dioxins, furans, arsenic, lead and other papermaking chemicals seeping into the Clark Fork. In late November, the EPA asked the state for consent to add the property to the Superfund National Priorities List, which Gov. Brian Schweitzer granted a couple of weeks ago.

Now Stillwell and his business partner, Mark Spizzo, say they're "not surprised" that the state prefers the federal Superfund route, adding that they'll continue their so-far-unsuccessful efforts to lure green industries to the uncontaminated portions of the site.

This is the right way to go. Let the Green Investment Group focus on redevelopment and leave the clean-up to the EPA and Montana Department of Environmental Quality. The company has never led a clean-up of this scale, nor did it demonstrate much concern for the extent of the contamination when it absolved Smurfit-Stone of all environmental liability.

Regardless of Green Investment Group's agreement, Superfund law allows the EPA to sue all former mill operators. It'll be a messy, years-long undertaking figuring out who pays for the clean-up, but we're encouraged by who will be leading the state through the process: Missoula's own Tracy Stone-Manning, who Gov.-elect Steve Bullock recently selected to helm the DEQ. Before working for Sen. Jon Tester, Stone-Manning, as head of the Clark Fork Coalition, essentially brokered the removal of the Milltown Dam. Now we need her restoration chops a little ways downstream.

So green jobs are headed to the Frenchtown mill. Hopefully the Green Investment Group can create some, too.

Comments (2)

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Here's a pretty ironic and telling update to the original Indy Etc.

Lawsuit from Missoula City-County Health Board, the Missoula Valley Water Quality District, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the Clark Fork Coalition blasts Stone-Manning's DEQ for 'absurd' Clark Fork River pollution permit…

Posted by Matthew Koehler on 11/20/2014 at 2:30 PM

It's worth remembering that Smurfit-Stone officials apparently lied to the public back in 2011 when they told us their mill site was clean and safe for development.

Smurfit-Stone: Frenchtown mill site is clean, safe for development
Missoulian, March 12, 2011

It's also worth remembering that the Smurfit-Stone pulp mill was one of the original "timber partners" that was part of Sen Tester's mandated logging bill, the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act. This bill would result in industrial logging on over 156 square miles of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge and Kootenia National Forests, including within critical habitat for grizzly bears. Tester's FJRA also would designate over 1,000,000 acres of inventoried roadless areas on the BHDL NF as "Timber suitable or open to harvest." Senator Tester's key point person on staff for his mandated logging bill was Tracy Stone Manning.

During late 2008 and 2009, Smurfit-Stone and other pulp and paper corporations across the country found an unintended loophole in a previous Transportation Bill, which allowed them to collect (directly from the wallets of US Taxpayers) 50 cents for every gallon of diesel fuel they added and burned to a decades-old practice of burning the pulping byproduct called "black liquor." To be clear, the only reason Smurfit-Stone and these pulp mills added diesel fuel to their "black liquor" was to exploit this tax loophole.

To the Missoula Indy's credit, they were the only Missoula media outlet to devote any attention to this issue. See….

During 2009, Smurfit collected $654 MILLION ($654,000,000.00) from US taxpayers utilizing this "black liquor tax credit boondoggle." In order to accomplish this amazing $654 million feat, corporation-wide Smurfit's pulp mills had to burn approximately 1.3 BILLION gallons of diesel fuel, which they had zero reason to burn, except to collect that $654 million from US taxpayers.

Looks like the taxpayer boondoggle will continue, as taxpayers will now be funding the cleanup of Smurfit's toxic mill site. Hey, but at least the Smufit-Stone executives got their bonuses, right? Given the fact that Senator Tester and Tracy Stone Manning worked so hard to keep Smurfit-Stone open with their mandated logging bill, and the fact that that office never once spoke out publicly against this $654 million black liquor boondoggle, perhaps DEQ Director Manning will do a good job with the clean-up, as I think she owes us one. Thanks.

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Posted by Matthew Koehler on 01/10/2013 at 8:51 AM
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