Thursday, May 23, 2024

More thoughts on CFAC

| May 15, 2024 7:50 AM

In a recent acronym-filled letter published by the Hungry Horse News, I wrote about the ongoing effort of the Coalition for a Clean CFAC to address 50 years of pollution at the retired Columbia Falls Aluminum Company plant. In that letter I quoted a report that misstated the role of the City of Columbia Falls.

A 2023 (here we go again with the acronyms) EPA TANA report (Environmental Protection Agency Technical Assistance Needs Assessment) stated the City of Columbia Falls had explored applying for a $50,000 EPA TAG (Technical Assistance Grant) to hire an independent contractor. The role of this person would be to interpret and explain technical reports, site conditions and the EPA’s proposed cleanup plans. The report further said, “the municipality did not have the capacity to administer the grant.” 

That misstatement caught the attention of City Manager Susan Nicosia. She provided this correction, supported by an EPA fact sheet on the grant: “Political subdivisions like states, counties, cities, townships or tribes are specifically listed as not eligible for a TAG.” While I didn’t know the city was ineligible to apply, knowing Susan as a grant master, not to mention her concern for the health and well-being of Columbia Falls, I should have known the city had the capacity to manage the grant. 

Meanwhile, the coalition has been exploring the possibility of applying for a TAG. It was also reported that the coalition has been in contact with the EPA about receiving assistance through the Technical Assistance Services for Communities program. However, Nicosia says the EPA previously hired the firm Skeo under the TASC program, which resulted in the 2023 TANA report. The report was prepared after the Virginia-based company conducted “in-person and telephone conversations with nine community members and stakeholders in June and August 2022.”  

Two lines pop from that report. “The community would value having a neutral advisor who would tell them if the information EPA shared is complete, especially entering the Proposed Plan stage of long term cleanup.” 

And this: “Most participants suggested more people, community groups and organizations should be involved with the cleanup.” The report listed several specific groups and categories of individuals. Ironically, not on that list was Citizens for a Better Flathead, the group that spearheaded the effort late last year to organize the coalition.  

Whether the EPA will award a TAG or conduct another TASC remains to be seen. But what can be unequivocally said is both the EPA and the contractor for CFAC appear to be making a good-faith effort to address the coalition’s concerns along with those offered by citizens at two well-attended meetings last month. 

Roger Hopkins 

Former Columbia Falls City Manager

Columbia Falls