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Montana Is Again Without An EPA Superfund Liason

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Courtesy EPA

The Montana Superfund liaison that the Environmental Protection Agency hired in February has quit. Her departure comes during a critical decision making period for both the Butte and Anaconda Superfund sites.

EPA Liaison Jacqui Barker quit as the agency’s community involvement coordinator for most of Montana’s Superfund sites after just two months on the job, citing personal reasons.

EPA Spokesman Andrew Mutter says the agency will move as quickly as possible to fill the position, which prior to Barker’s hire, had been vacant for almost a year.

"It’s a priority. It’s an absolute priority," Mutter says. "So we are committed to continuing to maintain the momentum that we’ve developed with our outreach at the sites, and I don’t anticipate any impact at this point."

Both the Butte and Anaconda Superfund sites are approaching significant decisions that will require public review. At each site, the parties responsible for cleanup are currently negotiating final deals, which incorporate changes to EPA’s original cleanup plans. Before the legally-binding agreements can be signed, those proposed modifications will need to go through rounds of public meetings and comment periods. A second EPA-mandated public health study is also underway in Butte.

During this busy time, EPA Region 8's Chris Wardell will continue to serve as the community involvement coordinator for the Butte and Anaconda Superfund sites from his post in Denver. But he was also just selected as the acting chief for all of the region’s community liaisons. 

"He’s going to be carrying quite a load," Mutter says.

Dave Hutchins is a scientist and member of Butte’s Citizens Technical Environmental Committee, who’s been active on Superfund issues for the last seven years. He says Wardell has been responsive.

"But it’s really not the same as having someone on the ground here who understands what the community’s facing, what our urgent needs are as this process really speeds up here in the next three months."

Hutchins says going forward, he wants public input to be more than just a box that the agency checks.

"I’m sure Jacqui would have done a good job, but I did see she felt more her role was to inform the public. And I’m really hoping that in our next community involvement coordinator we actually have someone who wants to engage the public, and let them have an active role in the process.

Jacqui Barker’s last day as Montana’s EPA Superfund liaison is April 28.

Nora Saks is a reporter and producer based in Butte, MT.
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