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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Montana Prepares To Take Control Of Libby Superfund Site Cleanup

Downtown Libby, MT.
Downtown Libby, MT.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to hand off long-term management of the Libby Superfund site to the state in 2020. A state advisory team is getting ready to budget for unforeseen cleanup and monitor the site.

State Rep. Steve Gunderson says the Libby Asbestos Superfund Advisory Team’s goal is to ensure the EPA’s remediation plan lasts into the future, and that homeowners won’t have to pay for any future cleanup.

"We definitely want any asbestos that was left in place to be remediated without cost to the homeowner or the property owner if there's a need to remodel or to dig in a location that we know has got asbestos in it."

Gunderson, a Republican, sits on the advisory team and represents Libby in the state Legislature.

He’s sponsoring a bill from the Environmental Quality Council that would increase the team’s responsibilities monitoring the site and working with local, state and federal agencies to implement final cleanup and ongoing maintenance plans.

Those duties were originally intended for a new liaison position in the state Department of Environmental Quality, but that position was never filled. Gunderson says the advisory team - which may soon be called the oversight committee - can fulfill that role, cost less and maintain local control.

"Again, that's one of the reasons that we felt we could do away with the liaison position, is that we do have such a good working relationship between the county, EPA, DEQ and LASAT."

Gunderson’s bill has a hearing scheduled in the Natural Resources Committee January 14.

Another upcoming change to the advisory team is replacing outgoing Sen. Chas Vincent of Libby with Senator-elect Mike Cuffe of Eureka.

The EPA has cleaned asbestos contamination from some 2,600 properties in Libby and Troy. Those sections of the broader Superfund site will be managed by the state Department of Environmental Quality starting in 2020.

Three funds totaling about $23 million are set aside to cover future site inspections, cleanup and administrative costs. The advisory team is tasked with weighing in on how those funds should be spent. The team expects an additional $5 to $15 million from the EPA from leftover settlement funds from W.R. Grace.

The EPA now turns its attention to the former W.R. Grace vermiculite mine itself, an area called Operable Unit 3 in Superfund lingo.

Nicky is MTPR's Flathead-area reporter.
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