Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - On Tuesday, Governor Greg Gianforte announced a proposed $18.5 million settlement agreement that resolves the remainder of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality’s claims in W.R. Grace & Co.’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy case for the Libby Asbestos Superfund Site in Lincoln County.

The $18.5 Settlement has been a Long Time Coming for the People of Libby

KGVO News spoke to Jessica Wilkerson, staff attorney with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality late Tuesday afternoon about the settlement, and provided a brief history of the W.R. Grace Vermiculite mine in Libby and its tragic legacy of pollution and death.

“W.R. Grace bought a mining operation up outside of Libby,” began Wilkerson. “It was a vermiculite mine. They were also mining asbestos, and they operated up there for approximately 60 years and shut down in the mid 1990s. After operations were shut down, it was discovered that this particular form of asbestos is toxic to people and it's particularly carcinogenic, so we've been responding to that public health emergency and environmental emergency since 2001, with EPA leading the charge.”

The Settlement will Provide Maintenance for the Next Century

Under the settlement, Grace would additionally provide the State of Montana with financial assurance for the operation and maintenance of the Kootenai Development Impoundment Dam for the next 100 years.

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“The Kootenai Development Impoundment Dam is an earthen dam that was constructed by W.R. Grace in the 1970’s in order to hold back impoundments related to the wet milling process up at the mine site. So it's often called the ‘KDID’. We believe that that presented the greatest amount of risk, at least financially to the people of Montana, if W.R. Grace was not to provide financial assurance, but also be able to get rid of that bankruptcy claim.”

Wilkerson detailed where the $18.5 million settlement monies will be used.

“The $18.5 million will go to address the natural resources damages,” she said. “Then from the remedy standpoint to protecting the state from any unnecessary or risky costs that might come about if W.R. Grace has not completed the remedy up there. We've agreed to accept financial assurance around some of the big features in order to prevent the state from having to pay for things that W.R. Grace should have to pay for.”

The Remediation Efforts at the W.R. Grace Site will Continue Indefinitely

Wilkerson said the Montana Department of Environmental Quality is satisfied with the $18.5 million settlement and what it will pay for.

“We think that this is a really big step towards addressing the ongoing risk that's presented by the W.R. Grace’s legacy of mining up there,” she said. “We are excited to engage in designing restoration projects up there and we'll be eager to hear public comment when some of those conversations happen.”

The State of Montana has reserved the right to withdraw or withhold its consent to the settlement agreement if comments received disclose facts or considerations that indicate the agreement is inappropriate, improper, or inadequate.

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