Soon-to-be state Sen. Dee Brown, R-Columbia Falls, on Monday asked Flathead County commissioners to take the lead in getting the Columbia Falls Aluminum Co. property declared a Superfund site.
Brown said Glencore, the Swiss-based parent company of the mothballed aluminum plant, has been stringing the community along since CFAC’s 2009 closure, “pretending” it intends to one day reopen the plant.
“I don’t think we’ll ever see the CFAC I knew,” she said. “They [Glencore] have no heartstrings to Columbia Falls and no obligation to the [aluminum plant] workers.”
A global metals and commodities giant, Glencore is estimated to be valued in excess of $60 billion. In mid-2011, at the same time Glencore was asking the Columbia Falls School Board and county commissioners to waive 95 percent of the plant’s 2010 property tax bill of $462,140, the company was planning a $10 billion initial public offering of its shares.
The school board and commissioners rejected the proposed tax break.
Brown said no one knows the extent of any contamination that may be at the aluminum company site, but she has heard anecdotal accounts about potential pollution from plant workers through the years.
The 125-acre property lies at the base of Teakettle Mountain near the Flathead River northeast of Columbia Falls.
The aluminum plant operated (with one other closure) from August 1955 to October 2009, when the high cost of power and increased international competition led to the plant’s closure. Eighty-eight people lost their jobs when the plant went dark; at its peak, the facility had employed more than 1,200 people and was producing 180,000 tons of aluminum annually.
Over the years, the plant had a succession of owners: Anaconda Copper Mining Co., Atlantic Richfield Co., Montana Aluminum Investors Corp. and Glencore.
Efforts to restart the plant have been pushed by Montana’s U.S. Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus. Both senators have engaged with Bonneville Power Administration to try to broker a power deal that could have made it feasible to restart the plant.
Brown said she recently spoke with one of Tester’s field directors and learned Tester has been unable to discuss a potential plant reopening or get much information at all from Glencore officials.
“He’s hitting the same stone wall,” she said. “Them ignoring Senator Tester is the ultimate slap.”
Commissioner Dale Lauman agreed with Brown, saying the future cleanup of the property needs to be pursued.
“CFAC doesn’t affect their [Glencore’s] bottom line,” Lauman said. “They’d just as soon let it sit and not address the cleanup because it could cost them some money.”
The Superfund program was established in 1980 through federal legislation that authorized the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to identify parties responsible for contamination and compel them to clean it up.
There are several steps involved in cleaning up a polluted site. Once a potentially polluted site has been reported to the EPA by individual citizens, state agencies or local government entities, the federal agency follows a step-by-step process to determine the best way to clean up the site and protect human health and the environment. Opportunities for community involvement occur throughout the process.
Brown said by taking action now to facilitate cleanup, the land would be ready and waiting for other manufacturing if Glencore sold the property.
“There are manufacturing interests that would love to be at that site,” she said.
Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or by email at email@example.com.