Toxic Mess: EPA places former Missoula Co papermill on National Priorities List

Smurfit-Stone Container Corp's Frenchtown pulp mill west of Missoula. Photo: Missoulian.
Smurfit-Stone Container Corp’s Frenchtown pulp mill west of Missoula. Photo: Missoulian.

On March 12, 2011, the Missoulian reported that “Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. officials say they’ve already cleaned up their Frenchtown paper mill.”  The article went on to quote Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. spokeswoman Lisa Esneault:

“When we discontinued operations at the Missoula mill more than a year ago, we developed a detailed strategy for removing all residual process materials subject to environmental regulation. We discussed our plans with the (Montana Department of Environmental Quality) at that time and have since implemented all activities as promised. This work is now complete and we believe all environmental issues at the mill have been appropriately addressed.”

Well, today, Missoula County residents woke up to the news that:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed placing Frenchtown’s old paper mill site on the National Priorities List, a step closer to triggering a Superfund cleanup effort.

The former Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. mill has evidence of dioxin, furan, arsenic and manganese contamination on portions of its 3,200-acre grounds. An NPL listing would allow more testing to confirm the extent of the problem and research of the plant’s history to determine which former or current owners might bear financial responsibility for fixing it.

“This isn’t a taxpayer-paid program,” Missoula County environmental health supervisor Peter Nielsen said Tuesday. “It’s paid for by the parties that profited from the operation, sale or closure of that mill. They’re brought back to the table to pay for the messes they’ve left behind. That’s where we’re headed, and that’s what we felt all along is what should happen.”

Current property owners Frenchtown Technology and Industrial Center did not respond to phone and email requests for comment on the EPA announcement. Previously, company redevelopment manager Ray Stillwell told the Missoulian he hoped the site could avoid a federal listing by managing its own cleanup efforts.

It’s worth remembering that the Smurfit-Stone Container Corp was one of the original “timber partners” (along with Montana Wilderness Association, National Wildlife Federation and Montana Trout Unlimited) that was part of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge Partnership’s proposal for 100,000 acres of politically mandated national forest logging, which later became part of Sen Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act.

It’s also worth remembering that the Smurfit-Stone Container paper mill closed on December 31, 2009, the very same day the Black Liquor Tax Credit loophole expired, which was much more than a coincidence.  During 2009, Smurfit-Stone Corporation collected $654 million from US taxpayers utilizing this “black liquor tax credit” boondoggle.  All told, the U.S. Pulp and Paper industry took $6.5 billion from U.S. Taxpayers  in 2009 under the black liquor boondoggle.

Well, it’s looking like the boondoggle will continue, since Smurfit-Stone Container Corporation executives apparently lied to Missoula County citizens and left Missoula County with a toxic mill site that will likely require federal EPA Superfund clean-up. But, hey, at least the Smufit-Stone executives got $50.4 million in bonuses during 2009, right?

Note: On May 27, 2011 Rock-Tenn Co completed it’s $3.5 billion takeover of Smurfit-Stone Container Corp.  Rock-Tenn Co CEO and Chairman James A. Rubright is with the American Forest & Paper Association.  Also, word has it that Smurfit-Stone was bankrupted and restructured before Rock-Tenn acquired and Rock-Tenn’s envio counsel became Rock-Tenn’s enviro VP. In other words, the assets, profits and subsidies are continuous, but not the liabilities.