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Frenchtown Stone Container Cleanup Plan Delayed

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Courtesy EPA

It will take more time before we learn about potential cleanup options at a former paper mill in Frenchtown.

Today was the Environmental Protection Agency's original deadline for the site's prior and current owners to present a "good faith" cleanup offer. The plant was in operation since the 1950’s. It was most recently owned by the Smurfit-Stone Container. The plant closed in 2010 and was purchased by M2 Green Redevelopment in 2011.

Missoula County Environmental Health Supervisor, Peter Nielson, says the parties requested a clean-up plan extension until December 19. Nielson says he is relieved that at least this discussion continues.

"We view that as great progress,"says Neilson. "We want to see that move forward as quickly as possible. While we had hoped to hear the proposal from prior owners and operators sooner rather than later, we understand there's some complexity to the process and it may take some additional time." 

Limited sampling has revealed several known industrial contaminants at the 3,200 acre site, including dioxin, lead and arsenic.

M2 Green spokesman, Ray Stillwell, could not be reached for comment today, but in the past has balked at calls to add the property to the Superfund National Priorities list. He says his company believes the state should manage the clean up.

Nielson says the county still supports a National Priorities listing. He adds plenty of hard and expensive work still must be completed, including thorough testing of soils, river and groundwater along with human and ecological health risk assessments.

'Then a feasibility study, based on the findings of the investigation, will show what options there are for actually cleaning it up. That's what the parties have been asked to commit to do now and pay for. The parties have also been asked to pay for EPA's costs to date, which exceed $450,000."

Nielson says he has seen unconfirmed total cost estimates ranging from $1 million to $5 million. He describes it as a big undertaking that taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for.

Nielson says this most recent delay isn't a deal-breaker, but is frustrating all the same.

"These monthly delays all add up eventually to years and sites drag on for 10, 20 or more years. We don't want to see that happen at Frenchtown because it's a site that has so much potential for redevelopment and so much potential benefit to the environment by getting it cleaned up."

National Priorities listing would enable EPA to work with state, tribal and local partners to clean up up the Frenchtown site, and protect the adjacent Clark Fork River. The EPA has given M2 Green and Smurfit Stone until December 19 to file their good faith clean up proposal. 

See more info about he Smurfit-Stone site from the EPA.

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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