New Libby asbestos team has first meeting

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On Wednesday, the Libby Asbestos Superfund Advisory Team held its first quarterly meeting in Helena.

The Environmental Protection Agency has been cleaning up the former vermiculite mining community since the early 2000s. This project continues today, and last May, Montana Senate Bill 315 created the Libby Asbestos Superfund Advisory Team to coordinate the effort.

“Five years from now, the people managing this could look completely different, and the one [constant] throughout this thing is the citizens of Libby and Troy,” observed one of the team’s members, Lincoln County Commissioner Mark Peck.

The bill that created the commission, he continued, “sets in a process that can easily transition to new people, and yet maintains a record of why decisions were made.”

The team meeting included representatives of state and local level groups involved in the project: Commissioner Peck; Tom Livers, Director of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality; George Jameson, a Lincoln County citizen nominated by the commission who was awaiting final approval from the governor; and state Rep. Steve Gunderson. State Sen. Chas Vincent is expected to serve on the team, but was not in attendance.

Livers took on chairmanship. The group’s top priority was filling the position of Libby Asbestos Superfund Liaison, also created by S.B. 315, to coordinate the agencies involved with the cleanup.

The team members identified crisis management, communications, technical training and leadership as the main qualities needed in a liaison. Commissioner Peck predicted challenges for whoever ultimately takes the role.

“There’s gonna be some situations where you have the Legislature, the agency, and the county pissed off all at the same time.”

The senate bill requires the Lincoln County Commission to forward three candidates to the governor. However, Levin said they would “proceed with what makes sense” if they could not find three, taking care to document and explain their decision. They agreed to start rerecruiting by the beginning of November, and re-assess their efforts if they fail to attract quality candidates by the start of the new year. A salary range has not yet been determined.

At the end of the meeting, the team agreed to meet again in either mid-November or the second week in December, and to develop a public-facing website about the group’s work.

Reporter Patrick Reilly can be reached at preilly@dailyinterlake.com, or at (406)758-4407.

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