FRENCHTOWN – Green Investment Group Inc. is moving forward with redevelopment and marketing plans at the Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. mill site, even though government officials have recommended it for Superfund priority listing, company officials said recently.
State and local governments’ support for the Superfund cleanup isn’t surprising, co-owner Ray Stillwell said.
But as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency investigation continues, “we will continue to market the several thousand other acres of the property that are not affected by the EPA’s investigation,” Stillwell said.
Stillwell is the co-founder of Green Investment, an Illinois-based redevelopment firm that bought the mill site in May 2011. Stillwell and business partner Mark Spizzo argued in the past that a Superfund designation could delay redevelopment and revitalization of the site.
“We have extensive and specialized expertise in environmental remediation, and have created jobs and turned local economies around in other communities. We have a track record in redevelopment of properties that have thrown down more challenging roadblocks than those in Frenchtown,” Stillwell said.
The response comes after a letter written by Gov. Brian Schweitzer on Dec. 17 asking the EPA to add the former linerboard plant site to its Superfund National Priorities List – guaranteeing federal oversight and standards for a full environmental cleanup.
The West Valley Community Council in Frenchtown has discussed the issue and generally agreed it also would write a letter supporting the listing, chairwoman Jeri Delys said in an earlier interview.
And the Missoula County commissioners previously sent Schweitzer and Montana Department of Environmental Quality director Richard Opper a letter asking for support of the priority listing.
An initial EPA report found traces of toxic dioxin and furan compounds in soil on the grounds. Roughly 138 acres of the 3,200-acre property may need intensive cleanup work. The report found that some compounds and metals are already threatening the Clark Fork River.
Much of the site has been salvaged and several prominent buildings have been torn down.
Green Investment has “repurposed many of the site’s assets” to prepare it for new tenants. Green Investment will soon announce a marketing strategy to promote the site to additional business and industrial prospects, according to a news release.
“This is a very marketable site and we have already had many prospects interested in development opportunities. While our efforts so far have been focused on evaluating and repurposing many of the assets on the property, our efforts will now turn toward more aggressively marketing the site,” Stillwell said.
Green Investment owns six other former paper mill sites around the U.S. and Canada and none have been designated Superfund sites.
In the news release, Green Investment noted that the preliminary site assessment found that the EPA doesn’t “believe there is an imminent human health danger posed by the site.”
While no wells have been contaminated and there is yet to be large-scale movement of any contamination, further investigation is needed to get a better picture of the state of the land, said Peter Nielsen, water quality supervisor for the Missoula City-County Health Department.
According to information Nielsen provided during a November meeting about the Superfund designation, former wastewater and sewage ponds occupy the former river channel, something that has become evident as they’ve drained since the mill closed in January 2010.
They are in danger of being washed away in high water, unleashing dioxins and furans into the river and affecting fish and aquatic life downstream.