The Smurfit-Stone/Frenchtown Mill Site (the Site), on the Clark Fork River in western Montana, was a paper mill from 1957 to 2010. Industrial activities at the mill resulted in the release of hazardous substances into the floodplain and exposure of natural resources to these hazardous substances. Hazardous substances from the Site include metals, PCBs (a.k.a. Aroclors), and dioxins/furans. Areas with hazardous substances at the mill property include sludge ponds, an emergency spill pond, aeration basins, polishing ponds, wastewater storage ponds, landfills, the industrial area, a land farm, and storage tanks (above and below ground). The full extent of the materials buried in waste areas at the mill property is not known.
The Site also includes contaminated groundwater under the mill property, and anywhere that released hazardous substances have come to be located, including sediments, fish, and water in the Clark Fork River.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed adding the Site to the National Priorities List (NPL) under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980, as amended (CERCLA) (42 USC §§ 9601, et seq). on December 12, 2013. It has not yet been listed. In 2015, EPA entered into an Administrative Order on Consent (AOC) with potential responsible parties to conduct a remedial investigation. EPA, in consultation with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), and the PRPs are currently conducting remedial investigation and site characterization activities.
PRPs at the Site include past owners and operators of the mill, the current property owners, and railroad companies that transported materials to and from the mill. EPA has identified the following potentially responsible parties under CERCLA for the Site: M2Green Redevelopment, LLC; International Paper Company; WestRock CP, LLC; BNSF Railway Company; and Montana Rail Link.
The Trustees of natural resources for the Site include State, Federal, and Tribal Trustees. The Montana Natural Resource Damage Program (NRDP) represents the Governor of the State of Montana, the Trustee for natural resources for the State of Montana. The Federal Trustees for the Site are the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, and the Tribal Trustees are the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the Kalispel Tribe.
When hazardous substances harm (or “injure”) natural resources that are held in trust for the public, Federal and State laws provide mechanisms for natural resource Trustees to seek compensation from potentially responsible parties for those injuries on behalf of the public. Regulations outlining a process for conducting a natural resource damage assessment (NRDA) under CERCLA have been promulgated by the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) at 43 CFR Part 11.
EPA’s regulations for implementing CERCLA, entitled the National Contingency Plan (NCP), state that the “lead agency shall seek to coordinate necessary assessments, evaluations, investigations, and planning” with the natural resource trustees. 40 C.F.R. § 300.430. Also, EPA “shall make available to the trustees of affected natural resources information and documentation that can assist the trustees in the determination of actual or potential natural resource injuries.” 40 C.F.R. §300.160.
In order to assist EPA in complying with its obligations under CERCLA and the NCP, the natural resource trustees have been reviewing data and EPA and PRP documents and providing comments and concerns to EPA. The natural resource trustees also reach out to certain of the PRPs for the Site to suggest ways to coordinate the natural resource damage assessment activities and the EPA-required site investigations.