COLUMBIA FALLS – U.S. Sen. Jon Tester and Gov. Steve Bullock on Monday said an agreement has been reached that will lead to contaminated land at the Columbia Falls Aluminum Co. site being cleaned up.
The agreement is between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Glencore, a Swiss conglomerate that owns CFAC.
Administrators at the EPA regional offices in Denver did not immediately return phone messages Monday afternoon. In 2014, the agency found levels of cyanide, arsenic, lead and fluoride in the groundwater in and around the plant at high enough levels to qualify it as a federal Superfund site.
After Glencore walked away from negotiations concerning the Columbia Falls plant in January, Tester and Bullock sent letters urging the EPA to list CFAC as a Superfund site.
“I’m pleased Glencore has finally realized it has an obligation to the people of Columbia Falls,” Tester said in announcing the agreement. “As this process moves forward, I will continue to hold the company and the EPA responsible for ensuring this site is cleaned up and revitalized so we can continue to strengthen the economy in the Flathead.”
The agreement calls for CFAC to conduct a comprehensive investigation of soils, river sediments, and ground and surface water to determine the nature and extent of contamination, and for the company to reimburse the EPA for its future costs in overseeing the investigation.
“This agreement will help us fully identify the nature and extent of contamination and begin to address threats to human health and the environment at the Columbia Falls Aluminum Plant site,” Shaun McGrath, EPA’s regional administrator in Denver, said in a news release. “We are encouraged that the company has committed to an aggressive investigation of the contamination in a legally binding agreement.”
The site is located on approximately 960 acres north of the Flathead River. The fishery includes the federally designated threatened bull trout and the federally sensitive westslope cutthroat trout.
“I welcome the news that Glencore has recognized its obligations to clean the site and make it ready to once again become a driver of the Flathead economy,” Bullock said. “The plant was a critical part of the economy of Columbia Falls and the site has been idle for too long. It has tremendous potential for redevelopment and will be an important anchor in the future of the region.”
The plant operated between 1955 and 2009, and employed as many as 1,600 people at one time. CFAC bought it from the Atlantic Richfield Co., which had purchased it from the plant’s original owner, the Anaconda Co., in 1977.