Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM news) – On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Gianforte announced a proposed $18.5 million settlement that will resolve remaining Montana Department of Environmental Quality claims against WR Grace & Co. in the Chapter 11 bankruptcy case regarding the Libby Asbestos Superfund location in Lincoln County.
The $18.5 settlement has been a long time coming for Libby residents
KGVO News spoke with Montana Department of Environmental Quality staff attorney Jessica Wilkerson about the settlement late Tuesday and provided a brief overview of the WR Grace vermiculite mine in Libby and its tragic legacy of pollution and death.
“WR Grace bought a mining operation outside of Libby,” Wilkerson began. “It was a vermiculite mine. They also mined asbestos and operated there for about 60 years before closing in the mid-1990s. After decommissioning, this particular form of asbestos was discovered to be toxic to humans and especially carcinogenic, so we’ve been responding to this public health and environmental emergency since 2001, led by the EPA.
The settlement provides sustenance for the next century
Under the agreement, Grace will also provide the state of Montana with a financial guarantee for the operation and maintenance of the Kootenai Development Protection Dam for the next 100 years.
“The Kootenai Development Impoundment Dam is an earth dam constructed by WR Grace in the 1970s to hold back impoundments associated with the wet milling process at the mine site. This is why it is often referred to as “KDID”. We believe that this posed the greatest risk, at least financially to the people of Montana, if WR Grace not only provided financial security, but was also able to get out of this bankruptcy claim.
Wilkerson specified where the $18.5 million in settlement funds will be used.
“$18.5 million will go to natural resource damage,” he said. “Then from the point of view of the remedy to protecting the state from any unnecessary or risky costs that may arise if WR Grace has not completed the remedy. We have agreed to accept some large feature financial guarantee that the state does not have to pay for things that WR Grace should to pay.
Remedial work at the WR Grace site will continue indefinitely
Wilkerson said the Montana Department of Environmental Quality is satisfied with the $18.5 million settlement and what it’s paying for.
“We think this is a really big step in addressing the further risk posed by the WR Grace mining legacy,” he said. “We’re excited to be involved in planning the restoration projects there and look forward to public comment as some of these conversations take place.”
The State of Montana reserves the right to withdraw or refuse to accept the Settlement Agreement if any comments received reveal facts or considerations indicating that the Agreement is inappropriate, inappropriate, or inadequate.
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