CFAC cleanup hits important milestones

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Significant progress has been made with the ongoing cleanup at the former Columbia Falls Aluminum Co., plant Superfund site. Following a little more than three years of work, many of the structures that once defined the site of the valley’s largest employer have been demolished. The aluminum unloader is gone, as is the compressor building, the laboratory and the main plant building.

Other less obvious work has also been completed, including an initial human health and ecological risk assessment.

These are important milestones in the continuing effort to scrub the property along the Flathead River of dangerous pollutants, but much more critical work remains. Upcoming actions will include the second part of the Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study, which is only step three in the entire nine-step Superfund process. This step puts engineers to work to decide what physical cleanup actions should be taken. Officials are hoping to have this part done by 2021.

Dealing with a Superfund site is a long, tedious process — as the folks up in Libby can attest to. The cleanup effort in that town has been going on for nearly 17 years.

Results from the Feasibility Study will give a more clear indication about the overall timeline of the CFAC project, but officials are encouraged by how quickly they hit the first set of milestones.

“We definitely aren’t done yet. We have a long way to go. But we are on schedule and we are moving ahead,” noted Mike Cirian with the EPA.

While it’s too soon to say there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, there does seem to be a flicker on the horizon that gives hope of one day seeing this property clean and ready for redevelopment.

Kudos to the Columbia Falls School District for going the distance to save taxpayers money and reduce fuel emissions at the same time.

The district recently purchased three propane buses to replace older buses that ran on diesel fuel, and expects to save thousands on fuel and maintenance costs. This seems to be a sound business decision on several levels. First off, the buses cost less — $120,000 apiece for the propane models versus $134,000 for a diesel bus. The operating cost is 26 cents per mile for propane, and 33 cents for diesel; that alone is expected to save roughly $15,000 a year.

The propane buses are cheaper to maintain, and let’s not forget the environmental and health benefits of a cleaner-burning fuel.

With Columbia Falls School District taxpayers facing a big decision on school additions and reconstruction, with a $37 million proposed bond issue to be decided in early October, it’s good to know the district is doing what it can — wherever it can — to keep costs as low as possible.

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