DEQ Proposed Clean-up of White Pine Sash Does Not Mesh With Community Development Docs

by jhwygirl

North Missoula Community Development Corporation‘s executive director Bob Oaks – a long-time advocate for all things Missoula professes to support, such as sustainable commercial and residential development and affordable housing – raised some well-informed warning flags on Monday concerning DEQ’s proposed clean-up plans for one of Montana’s many superfund sites.

In fact, Mr. Oaks raised warnings back in October of last year (and probably earlier) concerning the impending clean-up plans. Oaks is no schmuck – he’s a Harvard-educated land-use planner who’s been around Montana long enough to know that when shortcuts can be taken, they will. Here are some of his words of warning from last October:

“…Also, it is likely that before the end of next summer the MDEQ will make a determination on the level of clean-up that will be required of Huttig Building Products for the White Pine facility — a state superfund site.That site’s current zoning, the current growth policy recommendations for it, and previously documented recommendations of city zoning staff and the City-County Planning Board all favor preservation of the site’s relatively open ended M1-R zoning.

This open-endedness should also argue to MDEQ for a requirement that the superfund site be cleaned to the highest standard that can be required by law, one that would also allow some neighborhood-friendly flexibility in the potential for future uses. The desire for a best possible clean-up is a long standing position of the North-Missoula CDC and neighborhood council groups. I believe that this history and the public benefit of proper site clean-up be acknowledged and honored in the organization of any future TIF district. It would not serve the public well if the rigor of any future clean-up be guided or undermined by declaration of an all encompassing urban renewal district designated as an ‘industrial park.

The timing of this initiative worries me.”

Hmmm….and where are we now? DEQ’s proposal is a less-then-full clean-up, with “institutional controls” which will limit development to a highest and best use of light industrial/commercial – throwing a wrench into the M1R (limited industrial-residential) zoning designation, by eliminating residential uses altogether. Bob Oaks’ statement on Monday:

I’m writing to refresh an earlier post to this forum related to the proposed Northside URD. Some fears I had concerning the process are now being realized in the recent MT Dept. of Environmental Quality proposed plan for final cleanup at the site. As now envisioned by MDEQ, there will be less contaminated soil removed and greater imposition of “institutional controls” than would have been required if the superior cleanup to a residential standard were required.

This decision comes from a context of seeing light industrial/commercial development as the sole highest and best use for the site. This judgment is additionally promoted in a letter to DEQ from Missoula Economic Partnership Director, James Grunke, who cites the proposed URD as part of his rationale.

An added piece of this context comes from the “Future Use Memo” to DEQ from Huttig Building Products’ attorney who, in addition to citing Grunke’s letter, states the following: “Historically, housing east of Scott Street accommodated workers employed by White Pine Sash, Clawson Manufacturing, or the railroad. White Pine Sash at one time employed more than 200 workers, and the area east of Scott Street was a convenient location. Now that White Pine Sash and Clawson Manufacturing are out of business, there are far fewer workers on the Property, and employees desiring housing close to their workplace are limited. In fact, there are several houses that are for sale or vacant in the area east of Scott Street. This is an indication that there is little desire or need to live by the Property. Moreover, in recent decades there is no longer a need to live close to work because most workers are mobile and own a car or truck. Additionally, most people do not desire to live in the proximity of the railyard due to the noise and problems associated with the transient population. It is reasonable to anticipate that the pattern of development in the immediate area of the Property will remain industrial and/or commercial.

That MDEQ is now promoting the same conclusions arrived at by Huttig is frankly disturbing. A draft of an NMCDC response to DEQ and a history of the White Pine Facility is available at the NMCDC website:

Oaks raises an important question. Huttig – the owner of the site who is on the hook for clean-up because he took that responsibility on as a condition of purchase placed by the former owners of White Pine Sash who sold the property to him (i.e., eyes wide open, Huttig took on the responsibility voluntarily) – has long advocated a less-than-full clean-up…………and here is DEQ taking up the same recommendation despite the fact that the less-than-full clean-up leaves Missoula and the community with less-than-full options as outlined in multiple community planning documents that have undergone countless community meetings. Because we all know how much Missoula residents love to weigh in on community plans, don’t we?

Who is representing who here? And what will Missoula community leaders and planners do? Roll over or speak up?

DEQ had a public meeting yesterday in Missoula – they are taking public comment through the end of this month. The public notice is here

In addition to the consolidated information at NMCDC’s website, here is the DEQ White Pine Slash newsletter from March and the DEQ proposed plan for White Pine Slash.

  1. Well of course Huttig is going to want a less than full cleanup – that will save them money. But if we want to follow the law, they have to clean it all up.

    So why is Huttig set to get out of its legal obligations?

  2. Matthew Koehler

    Thanks for highlighting the fact that MT DEQ is proposing less than a full clean up of the White Pine Sash property, J-Girl. Between proposals like this one at the White Pine Sash property, and MT DEQ’s questionable handling of the Smith River Mine proposal, it makes one wonder who’s in charge of MT DEQ these days.

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