The dirt’s clean at former Champion sawmill site in downtown Missoula

By Keila Szpaller/Missoulian

Cleanup of Former Industrial Site

Remediation and cleanup in Missoula of the old industrial site has taken many years and many more hoops to jump through, but progress has been made.

Dirt at the former Champion sawmill site is clean, according to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

“We’ve met a major milestone in getting the soil work done,” said Chris Cerquone, with AMEC Geomatrix, an environmental consulting firm leading the cleanup.

Petroleum had polluted portions of the former industrial complex, some 46 acres on the southern banks of the Clark Fork River. So had a contaminant called trichloroethylene, or TCE, in soil vapors. But the site is getting scrubbed so it can support the mix of homes, retail shops and office space planned for the area, now called the Old Sawmill District.

The “soil closure” is one step in the cleanup. That job took a couple of years, and there’s more work to be done. DEQ project officer Kate Fry said Monday the developer still must address wood waste and methane.

“They do have a lot of wood waste to remove,” Fry said.

The developer is MRP, the Millsite Revitalization Project LLC, formed by Kevin Mytty of Quality Construction Co. and Colorado-based developer Ed Wetherbee. Geomatrix is managing the cleanup for MRP.

Cerquone said the strategy was to first tackle the six areas where dirt needed cleaning and then take on the wood waste and methane. The voluntary cleanup plan guides remediation and gives MRP until 2012 to get the site shipshape. Once the DEQ signs off completely, MRP can buy the property.

MRP has invested some $1 million so far on remediation and estimates it will spend another $1.5 million, according to a news release from city Brownfields coordinator Kisha Schlegel. A $1.125 million loan from the city of Missoula also helped with the cleanup.

In 2006, the city, the Office of Planning and Grants, and the Missoula Area Economic Development Corp. provided MRP with the money through the city’s Brownfields Revolving Loan Fund. The city created the fund with a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Brownfields are abandoned or underused industrial sites “where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination,” the news release said.

The loan fund won’t get replenished until MRP closes on the property. Then the fund gets an initial payment of $200,000, according to the news release.

In the meantime, the city hasn’t been able to loan money to other brownfields because of delays. Schlegel, though, is applying for more funds from the EPA and also said a holdup isn’t unusual in a complicated remediation project.

“That’s bound to happen,” Schlegel said. “You have an idea of what might be there, but then you dig down and find a surprise or two. It’s a matter of just being flexible.”

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