By Mckenzie Williams
On Tuesday, March 26, the Libby Asbestos Superfund Oversight Committee – formerly known as the Libby Asbestos Superfund Advisory Team, met in Helena for its quarterly meeting.
The committee, chaired by County Commissioner, Mark Peck includes Representative Gunderson, Senator Cuffe, Lincoln County citizen, George Jamison, and the Director of MT DEQ or a designated representative. The group along with other stakeholders heard updates regarding ongoing work at the Libby Asbestos Superfund Site which is about to enter the Operational and Function (O&F) phase.
This was the group’s first meeting after Governor Bullock signed House Bill 30 (HB30), which was sponsored by Libby Representative, Steve Gunderson. HB30 changed the group’s name, eliminated the liaison position that was posted but never hired, and laid out the Oversight Committee’s role in monitoring activities at the Superfund site, as well as assisting with the final clean-up and long-term maintenance plans.
As most locals know, Libby and Troy have been an asbestos Superfund Site for about two decades. In November of 2018, EPA announced their completion of cleanup work on residential and commercial properties in Troy and Libby. A formal culmination event followed, during which the city and others were recognized for their support and work over the years.
A Joint Site Inspection (JSI) was then conducted, and per a letter from EPA to both Montana DEQ and Lincoln County, the Superfund Site will transition into the O&F phase this month (April). Lincoln County and DEQ representatives expressed concern during the meeting that the JSI should not yet be considered complete and that the timeline for O&F is not clear.
Lincoln County’s Asbestos Resource Program (ARP) was established in 2012 and continues with funding through a cooperative agreement with EPA which will transition to DEQ in the future. ARP’s mission is to reduce exposure to Libby amphibole asbestos found within the Superfund Site and surrounding areas.
According to a document dated March 6, “Several months ago, the ARP raised the question about what officially triggers Operational and Function (O&F) period and subsequently, Operations and Maintenance (O&M).” A clear sequence of events is needed so that when DEQ and Lincoln County accept O&M responsibilities, they are adequately prepared. Some of the topics that still require attention include but are not limited to: transition of data files and implementation of a future data system, resolution of JSI concerns, an O&M cost estimate, public involvement on draft O&M and Institutional Control (IC) plans, documentation of EPA’s commitment to allocate unused Grace remedial action funds, and an agreement regarding the Record of Decision (ROD) which has been interpreted as assigning financial costs to property owners. EPA’s region 8 Administrator, Doug Benevento told County officials that the ROD’s intent was not for residents to incur financial costs, but to date, this has not been clarified in writing.
Overall, Lincoln County and DEQ representatives agreed that the two entities are working well together and building a good relationship. Although the topics were not all resolved during the meeting, work behind the scenes will continue to move forward and updates will be addressed at their next quarterly meeting which has not yet been scheduled.