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Opinion: Coalition for a Clean CFAC 10,000 strong and growing

| February 28, 2024 2:00 AM

The Coalition for a Clean CFAC is pleased to announced that over 1,000 Columbia Falls and Flathead area residents have signed a petition requesting that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) take a timeout to fairly re-evaluate the cost-benefits of removing, (not leaving), the toxic waste at CFAC (Columbia Falls Aluminum Company).

Additionally, the following organizations have joined the call for this timeout including, American Rivers, Flathead Lake Protection Association, Flathead Rivers Alliance, Flathead Lakers, Swan View Coalition, and West Glacier Community Preservation Association, with a number of others considering joining pending approval of their boards. These organizations collectively with the Coalition for a Clean CFAC represent over 10,000 residents.

We owe a huge shout out of appreciation to the small army of volunteers who gathered these signatures in a short time and those who went to our web site to sign the petition as well. Such grassroots outreach takes hours and hours of time—but we notified the EPA in a recent letter that we plan to come back to them over the next month with another 1,000 names and then another and another. In this process of gathering signatures, we heard over and over from fellow volunteers that residents expressed overwhelming frustration that they had not been kept better informed about opportunities for public input and that more town halls and public information sessions should have been repeatedly held to engage and inform the public.

The petition calls out that no cost analysis of removing this highly toxic waste was done by CFAC’s consultants when drafting the cleanup plan, rather it was dismissed as too costly. Public comment to date, including that of the Columbia Falls City Council, has been for removal of the hazardous and toxic waste that has been buried on site during the years of operation of the aluminum smelter from 1955-2009 and particularly prior to 1990 when new federal laws required off-site disposal of such hazardous waste.

In our recent second letter to the EPA, we have requested a meeting in Helena to deliver these petitions and to speak more directly to the clear need we see for the EPA to pause their decision-making process and to provide

Columbia Falls and Flathead residents and businesses a focused feasibility report evaluating realistic costs for removal of the highly toxic waste on site, as well as other missing data and costs for other clean-up activities that may be needed. We believe this missing information is essential to be able to a craft future vision for the redevelopment of this site that is good for the community, the economy, the environment, and for future generations. Without this information, the public and EPA cannot really know if the proposed solution would meet the EPA’s goals for solutions that offer long term effectiveness and permanence, as well as community acceptance.

Citizens for a Better Flathead is a citizen-based advocacy organization representing more than 3,000 residents of Flathead County. We, along with the Columbia Falls-based Upper Flathead Neighborhood Association representing some 200 residents in the Columbia Falls area, and a rapidly growing number of city and county residents throughout the Flathead including a number of former Columbia Falls Aluminum Company (CFAC) employees and other local organizations, have come together to form the Coalition for a Clean CFAC. Our mission is to secure the comprehensive cleanup of the Columbia Falls Aluminum Company (CFAC) Superfund site for the health, enjoyment, and economic benefit of the local community and the protection of the Flathead watershed.