MISSOULA – Missoula County officials say we may have been lucky record floods didn’t breach earthen berms along the Clark Fork River at the old Smurfit Stone mill.
However, they’re hoping the floods serve as a warning to the US Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies a permanent fix is needed to keep dioxins and heavy metals from escaping downstream.
While flooding along the Smurfit property wasn’t as high as in Missoula, staying below the 1997 flood marks, the high water came after years of the mill being shut down, with no regular maintenance for the berms.
The county is waiting for samples to see if toxins did leak from a weakened breach in one location. Missoula County officials have been frustrated with the EPA for not moving more quickly on cleanup. But with EPA releasing an interim plan for an emergency breach this week, and promising a permanent plan, there’s some hope local concerns are being taken seriously.
During a Friday press briefing, we asked Missoula County Environmental Health Specialist Travis Ross if we "dodged a bullet" this time/
"It’s hard to know without the hydraulic analysis. And that’s why we feel like its essential to get that information. We certainly feel like it’s big enough of an issue that we need an interim contingency plan and a final contingency plan so we’re serious about that," Ross said.
"We feel like, yeah, this was a warning. We did not see a hundred year flood event and what would a hundred year flood event look like. And with climate change and frequencies of flooding and runoff coming earlier, I mean a hundred year flood event may not be the one that you need to look at. Maybe we need to look bigger than that, Ross added.
Missoula County is hoping to receive those toxin samples in the next couple of days.