State can’t clean up all contaminants from Montana Pole Plant

State can’t clean up all contaminants from Montana Pole Plant

Source: Montana Standard
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SUSAN DUNLAP

After about 20 years of cleanup work, the state told the Butte-Silver Bow Council of Commissioners Wednesday that the remediation of the Montana Pole Plant site has only been partially successful.

The state gave a presentation Wednesday before commissioners because the site is at a pivotal point, said David Bowers, state project manager. Despite 20 years’ worth of soil treatment, the state recently found that dioxin, a carcinogen, did not break down and is still present in the soil at the site off Josette Avenue west of South Montana Street.

Because of its lack of success with dioxin, DEQ plans to modify the cleanup plan, invite public input, and hold additional public meetings to discuss the issue and the road that lies ahead.

The state anticipates the site will be ready for handoff by 2019. But to ensure it will be safe even for recreational use – meaning less safe than if the site were cleaned up to meet industrial or residential use standards – the former wood-treatment site must be partially capped and the recreational uses controlled.

BSB Chief Executive Dave Palmer expressed displeasure that it can only be used as a park.

“If it can only be used as a park when it’s finished, it’ll probably be a state-owned park. Butte-Silver Bow doesn’t need any more parks,” Palmer told Bowers during the commission meeting.

It would be up to the county, who has right of first refusal on the property, to pay for turning the space into a recreational area.

Bowers pointed to the many places across the country that have such sites, including Butte’s Copper Mountain Recreation Complex, which is a baseball field over a cap that protects residents who use it from contamination from the landfill below the surface.

Anaconda’s Old Works Golf Course is another capped site. Above buried arsenic and other contaminants in the ground is a Jack Nicklaus-designed world-class golf course.

Commissioners didn’t sound pleased with what they heard Wednesday.

Commissioner Bill Anderson questioned Bowers over money. The state received a $35-million cash-out from the responsible parties through a settlement in the 1990s to clean up the site.

The state has $29 million left, Bowers said. But water must also be treated at the site. The water treatment plant, which is pumping and treating the pentachlorophenol (PCP), dioxins, furans, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons out of the groundwater, is expected to be necessary for at least another 30 years. All of the contaminants are carcinogens.

Bowers said it costs the state about $900,000 annually to run the treatment plant. That includes the plant’s electrical cost.

Bowers said the state is looking to optimize the plant in an effort to save money. That would likely include installing a new system in the plant so that needed manpower hours to monitor the treatment could be reduced.

Optimization would also help the plant meet water quality standards. Bowers told the Standard that the plant is not meeting the standard for PCP because the standard changed since the remedy for the site was agreed upon in the 1990s. He said, however, that the plant comes “close” to meeting the new standard now.

The plant is monitored once a week, he said.

The groundwater is treated with a type of carbon that strips the carcinogenic contaminants out of the water before it’s discharged into a lagoon. The water then finds its way into Silver Bow Creek.

Several of the commissioners commented that the Montana Pole Plant site is “another waste-in-place” solution.

“We’re back at square one,” Commissioner Jim Fisher said, commenting on the fact that after 20 years of cleanup, the state is now finding that the cleanup didn’t completely work.

But Palmer may have summed up the mood of the commissioners when he closed Bowers’s presentation with one last parting shot.

“Milltown Dam (east of Missoula) hauled the waste (from a dam removal in 2007) to Opportunity. Why can’t we do the same thing and haul it to Helena where the decision-makers live?” Palmer said.