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Superfund

Community rallies for cleanup

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During impassioned deliberations this week about how best to decontaminate the Northside's long-languishing White Pine and Sash Superfund site, the only advocate of a recently unveiled state-sanctioned remediation plan was a representative for the company responsible for the cleanup bill.

"The commercial cleanup standards that have been developed by (state regulators) will be protective of human health and the environment," said Bryan Douglass, a local consulting engineer who represents Huttig Building Products, which is legally responsible for remediating the 43-acre property.

This week's discussion before the Missoula City Council came in response to a long-awaited cleanup plan released by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality in February. It also marked the latest chapter in a saga that dates back to 1920, when a company called White Pine and Sash launched a manufacturing operation on the property that used potentially carcinogenic chemicals to treat wood products.

In 1994, the state found chemical compounds in the soil and groundwater and declared White Pine and Sash a Superfund site. Two years later, Huttig shuttered. It later sold pieces of the property to Zip Beverage and the Scott Street Partners investment group. The city of Missoula purchased 15.5 acres from Scott Street.

Since then, Northsiders have urged the DEQ to require the privately owned land be remediated to a residential standard, one more stringent than the agency's commercial/industrial standard. Residents argued this week that branding the property as industrial will stunt the area's ongoing revitalization.

"The Northside as a community is really galvanized right now about this," said Grace Decker, who lives in the area.

Despite ongoing neighborhood advocacy, the DEQ in February recommended a commercial-grade decontamination. The agency estimates such a remediation will cost Huttig $7.9 million, contrasting the $21 million associated with a residential cleanup.

Douglass argued this week that, based on the parcel's history, the DEQ's recommendation to keep the property in commercial use makes sense. He said further that Huttig has already removed contaminated soil, performed groundwater treatments and extracted potentially carcinogenic underground vapors. The company remains committed to working with DEQ to protect "human health and the environment," he said.

Despite such assurances, the Missoula Water Quality Advisory Council and the Missoula City-County Board of Health oppose the DEQ's preferred alternative. Similarly, the Missoula City Council voted unanimously after this week's deliberations to adopt a formal resolution calling upon DEQ to reconsider its proposal.

DEQ is accepting public comment on the cleanup until April 14.

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