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When Environmental Protection Agency chief Stephen L. Johnson visited Libby back in August, the message seemed to be that help was on the way, that the cleanup of asbestos contamination from years of mining by W.R. Grace would be given priority. But committing enough money to adequately decontaminate the town was apparently not part of the deal.

Last week, the townsfolk were asked to choose whether they wanted to use part of the $17 million budget for 2008 to clean up Flower Creek, or Libby’s Cabinet View Country Club public golf course.

Documents indicate that the EPA has been aware of asbestos contamination at the golf course since at least 2005, and in August, the EPA acknowledged that asbestos at the Country Club “presents a significant exposure risk to course employees.”

Besides the employees, golfers play about 15,000 rounds on the course each year.

But the EPA, which did not return calls for comment, seems to be taking a mulligan, neither closing the Country Club to public use nor seeking the money necessary to clean it up. It’s all a bit ironic, considering that a cornerstone in the federal case against W.R. Grace is that the company “knowingly exposed” people to deadly asbestos.

Back in August, when EPA chief Johnson visited Libby, he was in the company of Sen. Max Baucus, who publicly embarrassed the agency for failing to even figure out how to make the town safe despite spending $110 million dollars over seven years, and for not declaring a Public Health Emergency for the town.

That declaration would have guaranteed a lot more money for cleanup, and Baucus is currently reviewing thousands of pages of EPA documents to figure out why the declaration wasn’t made.

“Max believes that a public health emergency should have been declared in Libby, and wasn’t,” Baucus spokesman Barrett Kaiser told the Independent in a Jan. 22 interview. “He thinks a greater priority should be given to cleanup efforts to give Libby a long-term clean bill of health.”

Kaiser’s says the senator’s wrath extends to the EPA’s whiff at the golf course, as well. “Max thinks it’s an outrage,” Kaiser said. “Everything in Libby should be cleaned up, every house, every trail, every recreation site, and the EPA should dedicate emergency dollars to get it done.”

It’d be hard to disagree with that statement, but watching the ongoing comedy of errors that is the Libby cleanup, it’s hard to believe that it will ever happen.

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