Montana has a new Superfund liaison. The partial government shutdown delayed the Environmental Protection Agency from naming a permanent replacement for the acting liaison, but now that it’s over, Jacqui Barker is visiting communities around the state.
I caught up with her on her third day on the job, in Butte, where she met with Congressional staff, county government officials, the local Superfund technical advisory group, and a slew of community leaders and activists.
Barker was full of enthusiasm about her new role, which she says is about, "Being in the community. Being the face of the EPA, making sure that I’m responsive. Making sure I’m listening, active listening with the community."
Barker will serve as community involvement coordinator for all Superfund sites in the state, with the exception of Libby, and in the short term, Butte. Chris Wardell, from EPA’s Denver regional office, will continue as Butte’s temporary liaison for another six to 12 months, until Barker is fully up to speed on the highly complex Butte site, where a final cleanup deal is currently under negotiation.
Barker said because of the broad geographic range of the 18 Superfund sites she’s now responsible for, she anticipates her biggest challenge will be spending enough time in each community. She also said the Butte and Anaconda sites will continue to receive the targeted attention that EPA outlined as a priority in late 2017.
"Acting Secretary Wheeler, he’s made it a huge point that we need to continue to focus that, we need to make sure that we can track that progress, have progress, and communicate."
Andrew Mutter, the communications director for EPA Region 8, was with Barker on her whirlwind orientation tour. He said another government shutdown would impede progress on the Butte and Anaconda clean up deals.
"But we’re doing our best to address that upfront, so that if we were to experience anything in the near future, that we would be able to have taken some immediate actions, or planned on taken actions, once the lapse is over."
Jacqui Barker has spent the last 25 years in the Navy as a public affairs officer. From Kalispell originally, she says she always planned to return to Montana and will be based in Helena.