EPA recognizes community as Libby cleanup draws to a close

Submitted by

Jennifer Harrison

 

On Thursday, Nov. 29, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognized the work and collaboration that has happened in Libby. Regional Administrator Benevento presented an award to the City of Libby for redevelopment of theRiverfront Park site along with a number of other awards to other entities.

Since the W.R. Grace vermiculite mine became a Superfund site in 1999, EPA has investigated over 8,100 properties. In mid-November, EPA completed the last of over 2,600 scheduled property cleanups located within Libby and Troy. These cleanups required the removal and replacement of more than one million cubic yards of contaminated soils.

“This is an incredibly resilient community and I am honored to recognize those who have made a difference, especially throughout the Superfund redevelopment efforts,” said Doug Benevento, EPA Regional Administrator. “As this 19 year-long cleanup draws to a close, we are here to thank local and state agencies and organizations and community members alike for their hard work, perseverance and for envisioning a vibrant community.”

Over the next year, this phase of the cleanup will be closed out and long-term operations and maintenance of the site will transfer to the state in 2020. EPA activities at the W.R. Grace mine site will continue into the near future.

EPA began working with the City of Libby in 2009 to see how cleanup work at W.R. Grace’s former export plant (now Riverfront Park) could support beneficial reuse in this area. The 17-acre former plant site along the Kootenai River was used by W.R. Grace to store mined vermiculite before it was shipped. The City of Libby came together with EPA, Montana Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), Lincoln County, and many other federal and state partners and community organizations, to develop a coordinated approach to the area’s cleanup and redevelopment.

In 2013, the City of Libby officially opened Riverfront Park. The park has become a crown jewel for Libby and is used for community gatherings, weddings and celebrations, including Libby’s annual Riverfront Blues Festival.

In addition to recognizing the City of Libby for their work on the Riverfront Park, EPA also recognized the following organizations for superior achievement in site reuse and environmental sustainability:

  • Libby Parks Committee
  • Flathead Electric Cooperative
  • Lincoln County’s David Thompson Search and Rescue
  • Society of American Foresters
  • BNSF Railway
  • Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation
  • Montana Department of Environmental Quality
  • U.S. Forest Service – Kootenai National Forest
  • United States Army Corps of Engineers – Omaha District

Contractors for EPA and the US Army Corps of Engineers were also recognized for having an exceptional commitment to safety on this project. In October of this year, contractors surpassed the one-million-hour mark without a lost workday incident.

A new video about the site was also shared at the event. It can be viewed online at https://go.usa.gov/xP6dT

EPA Regional Administrator Benevento poses with mayor Brent Teske  who holds the city’s new award. Photo by Tracy McNew, The Montanian.