Rezoning Request Designed to Avoid Full Superfund/DEQ Cleanup

by jhwygirl

corrected: I had the day wrong. The meeting is tonight, not Wednesday as I had originally posted. Thanks JG! The Staff report for Linda Vista is now online, too. Thanks Roger!

There are actually two scary applications before the Consolidated Planning Board tonight. One is an up-zoning in Linda Vista. It is a request to put 293 units on 93.6 acres (that’s 3.1 units per acre). The current zoning is 1 unit per 5. I’m sure it’s all in the name of “affordable housing” – but since the staff report and none of the supporting documentation is online, and since the staff recommendation is who-in-the-world-knows-what, I’ll move on to the even scarier rezoning.

Here is a link to the Linda Vista staff report. Staff is recommending a string of denials.

Lord knows a rezoning request like Linda Vista is enough to pack the halls of City Council to standing room only crowd. Gotta wonder what the White Pine Sash rezoning will do, with the Northside neighborhood within walking distance.

Even scary is the rezoning request for the former White Pine Sash site by Scott Street Partners. The current zoning is D (Industrial), and the request is to up-zone to I-1 (Industrial). D-zoning is a lighter industrial zoning designation because it allows for the same uses as I-1, but notably, D-zoning allows for residential uses. This is key to the whole story: residential uses.

The White Pine Sash site has been designated by the State as a Superfund Cleanup Site. The historic use of pentachlorophenol at this site has contaminated the site’s surface soils with pentachlorophenol (penta) and dioxin. Penta and dioxins were used on the site (from the 19330’s to 1987), in the form of a dipping tank, to soak window sashes and doors as a way of reducing the potential for mold and fungi infestations.

When White Pine Sash closed in 1996, it was owned by Huttig Building Products, a subsidiary of Crane Company – a multi-national business that has been the a principal in a number of other, much higher profile, environmental cleanup cases. It is no stranger to how superfund processes work. (I found one in New Jersey, and another in Phoenix.)

In 1989 DEQ discovered penta soaked soils while overseeing the removal of underground storage tanks. Removal of which was funded, BTW, with $450,000 from the Montana Petroleum Release and Compensation Fund. That fund gets its money from a state fuel tax.

In 1993, groundwater was sampled and found to contain contamination from petroleum products, penta and dioxins. Hutting, and by extension, Crane Co., has been named the responsible party and is liable, under the Montana’s Superfund Law, for testing and remediation costs.

But here’s the kicker: In 1999 Hutting sold the property in two parcels – one to Zip Beverages (12 acres) and 30 acres to Scott Street Partners. In 2000, the combined Zip and Scott Street Development group sold sold a combined 15.5 acres site to the City of Missoula for $1.5 million, and for all purposes recovered their original investment.

The City – in typical “build first, ask for forgiveness later” developer mode (or “do as I say, not as I do”) – rezoned its parcel and built its vehicle office and maintenance site, absent of the required DEQ remediation plan. Ultimately, they did submit a cleanup plan to residential standards for a playing field that they and the combined Zip Beverages/Scott Street Partners donated, and a commercial standard cleanup for the vehicle maintenance site.

And here we come to another key element: DEQ regulations for cleanup standards differ when the potential for residential development exists. This is why Scott Street Partners is requesting a rezoning to I-1 – they want to eliminate the potential for residential developement, thereby reducing the level of cleanup required by DEQ.

Let me be clear: This rezoning, if it happens, will leave penta, petroleum and dioxins – all known carcinogens – in the soils, mere inches above the Missoula aquifer.

Now, DEQ has been relatively mealy-mouthed on this – and their letter of comment, in and of its own, makes no specific mention of the ramifications to the citizens of Missoula should this rezoning occur. Shame on DEQ.

Here’s a red flag: When a bureaucrat starts using words like “policy” and “rules” and “regulation”, that usually means that they are bastardizing the law. Not all the time (I’m not that cynical), but usually. In this case, if you clicked on the link above, DEQ is bastardizing the same law at least twice: Once when they refer to policy which won’t let them comment on a city-action (but it let them declare the site a Superfund Site), which shirks their lawful responsibility to provide us with a “clean and healthful environment”, which is guaranteed to us by our Montana Constitution; and secondly when they, being DEQ, creates a rule that says that the clean and healthful environment guarantee to our aquifer (in this case) discerns itself between the zoning and whether residential uses are possible at the location. How the aquifer can do that is beyond me.

That being said, Missoulians and the MT DEQ (despite their less-than-honorable behavior thus far) should expect nothing less than a complete clean up of an aquifer being polluted with carcinogenics. In fact, I suggest an email not only to city council and the planning board, but also to DEQ, telling them to support the Missoula Office of Planning & Grants in its recommendation of denial to the rezoning application.

You can email the director of DEQ, Richard Opper, at
You can email the Planning Board at
You can email the City Council at


They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery. I hope that Bob Oaks remembers that if he reads this, because he will know that I essentially plagiarized most of this information from him. Bob Oaks is Director of the North Missoula Community Development Corporation and he wrote an excellent piece that takes this whole issue to task quite a bit more thoroughly that that which I outlined above. If you aren’t outraged yet, you will be when you go over and read his piece.

  1. petetalbot

    Excellent observations there, jhwygirl. One has to wonder how the old Champion mill site across the river managed to get all cleaned up and this one didn’t. Different players, I guess.

  2. I’m so glad that you (and Bob) helped us untangle this confusing puzzle, so we can understand what is really going on. Scary is right. This is grassroots activism at its best.

  3. Jamee Greer

    The planning board is meeting TONIGHT! Not Wednesday!

    WPS also has large pockets of methane gas trapped in the soils, leftover from decaying wood pulp.

    The good news is that folks are concerned and united against this rezoning. The Confederated Northside / Westside Neighborhood Council voted unanimously during a special meeting two weeks ago to oppose the rezoning, and the Community Forum voted unanimously during their last meeting to oppose the rezoning as a community health issue.

    There is broad opposition across a vast range of political, socio-economic and neighborhood lines.

  4. Broad opposition always works so well – especially in the Northside, Jamee. Ask the neighbors a little about the history of that topic, but I warn you, make sure you have plenty of time to spare.

  5. Roger Millar

    The staff report for Linda Vista Estates is on line.

  1. 1 Various & Sundry for the Weekend « 4&20 blackbirds

    […] use is estimated between $210,000 to more than $6 million. Northside residents here in Missoula are fighting for a full residential class cleanup of White Pine Slash’s site of the same toxins. No Comments Leave a Commenttrackback addressThere was an error with your […]

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