November 13, 2009 in City

Libby official alleges EPA fraud

Councilman says agency owes for lost buildings
Matthew Brown Associated Press
 
File Associated Press photo

An eagle sign welcomes visitors to downtown Libby, Mont., last June. The town is a decade into a massive asbestos cleanup.
(Full-size photo)

BILLINGS – A city councilman in Libby said Thursday that the Environmental Protection Agency owes the asbestos-plagued Superfund community $2 million for the demolition of several contaminated buildings.

The city-owned buildings included an export plant for asbestos-laden vermiculite that was shipped from the site across the country by W.R. Grace, the now-bankrupt chemical and mining company.

After the buildings came under city ownership about a decade ago, they were torn down by Grace at the direction of the EPA.

City Councilman D.C. Orr said that after settling a civil suit against Grace last year for $250 million, the agency was obligated to repay the city $2 million. That’s the amount Grace offered in 2000 to buy back the property where the demolished buildings stood.

“I’m alleging fraud that deprives the people of Libby of the rightful restoration of (the city-owned property),” Orr said. “The city has received nothing.”

Orr said he plans to file a formal complaint with the EPA’s Office of Inspector General within the next several days.

EPA spokesman Ted Linnert said the removal of the buildings was “ancient history” and that the agency considered the matter closed.

Libby – a northwestern Montana town near the Idaho and Canada borders – is a decade into a massive cleanup of an asbestos problem that has caused almost 300 deaths and sickened hundreds of people.

The export plant demolition is a small part of a cleanup that covers the entire community, the vermiculite mine site on Zonolite Mountain and the nearby town of Troy.

W.R. Grace spokesman Greg Euston said the company had no involvement in the city property dispute. Its 2008 settlement with the EPA covered all past and future cleanup costs and shielded the company from third-party lawsuits.

Orr’s complaint has not been endorsed by the six-member City Council, although some members said they were sympathetic to his actions.

However, Libby Mayor Doug Roll dismissed Orr’s efforts, saying he’s never seen any proof to back up claims that the EPA owes anything for the demolished buildings.

“The previous council a long time ago accepted some water lines in lieu of those buildings,” Roll said. “The information he’s presented to us, I don’t see anything there.”

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