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.