New agreement in place for Libby cleanup

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Lincoln County and the Environmental Protection Agency have reached a new cooperative agreement for managing the Lincoln County Asbestos Resource Program.

After nearly two decades cleaning up the area around the former W.R. Grace vermiculite mine, the EPA is winding down its involvement in Libby and plans to finish the project next year.

The Asbestos Resource Program aims to protect and continue the EPA’s safeguards once the agency leaves.

“The idea of the ARP is to really serve as an institutional control program of protecting the remedy and continuing to protect human health and public health after EPA’s done,” program manager Nick Raines told the Daily Inter Lake Wednesday.

In other words, it constitutes the non-engineered parts of the rehabilitation project, such as education and administration. The new cooperative agreement governs this program through the end of 2019.

Whereas the previous agreement, in effect since April 2012, was between the agency and Libby’s City-County Board of Health, this agreement is between the EPA and Lincoln County. This change, Raines explained, reflects the fact that the Board of Health falls under Lincoln County’s budgetary authority.

“The EPA was more comfortable having that cooperative agreement directly with Lincoln County as they are the entity that’s financially responsible,” Raines said. The EPA has awarded Lincoln County about $914,000 to fund the program until the end of 2019.

Rich Mylott, spokesperson for the EPA’s Region 8, told the Daily Inter Lake in an email that the “EPA evaluated options with the county and we collectively determined that a new cooperative agreement was the best way to ensure continued funding while we evaluate concerns associated with the prior agreement.”

He went on to explain that “EPA’s regional office is evaluating improper drawdowns to the [previous] cooperative agreement.”

These drawdowns prompted the EPA to temporarily hold reimbursements for payments the program made between Sept. 20, 2016, and Aug. 31 of this year, when the previous agreement expired.

A conclusion to the evaluation hasn’t yet been reached. Lincoln County Commissioner Mark Peck told the Inter Lake that the county’s eager for reimbursement, but “I don’t think it’s creating a hardship.”

“I’m glad that it’s in place,” he said of the new agreement, “because it substantiates the program for a couple years.”

For more information about the Lincoln County Asbestos Resource Program, visit its website, www.lcarp.org.

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