News that federal officials want to remove part of a former wood-treating plant on the northeast side of Bozeman from a national list of contaminated sites sounds promising, but we remain skeptical.

The Environmental Protection Agency recently proposed deleting the soils portion of the Idaho Pole Superfund site from the National Priority List. The agency said about 82 acres off Cedar Street near the railroad and Interstate 90 would be removed from the list after more than three decades.

An EPA official said the push to delist the land now was prompted by people wanting to develop the property. He also said removing Superfund sites from the list is “a high priority for this administration.”

That’s all well and good, but pardon us if we have heard this song before.

The EPA first listed the site because of soil and ground contamination left over from the Idaho Pole Company that operated there from 1945 to 1997. The company used chemicals to preserve wood. The wood poles were treated in vats and then stacked for drying and shipment. Problem was, the vats leaked, and the chemicals soaked into the soil and groundwater, eventually seeping into Rocky Creek.

The EPA began cleanup of the site in 1995, and treated about 24,000 cubic yards of soil by the time it completed its work in 2002. Now, 17 years later, the EPA says no more work is needed to protect human health and the environment at the site. It sees potential for either housing or commercial development. It also mentions that a 4.5-acre “Treated Soil Area” and a “Controlled Groundwater Area” at the site will remain on the priority list, although there is no timeline for when the groundwater issue will be resolved. Doesn’t sound like much of a priority to us.

Any development of the land will require the approval of Bozeman city officials. Those officials should remember how, in the past, local taxpayers have been left holding the bag to the tune of millions of dollars to clean up other environmental messes.

There is no question that new housing and commercial developments will be necessary to accommodate Bozeman’s accelerating growth. In this instance, however, we urge the city to proceed with caution.

Editorial Board

  • Mark Dobie, publisher
  • Nick Ehli, managing editor
  • Bill Wilke, opinion page editor
  • Don Beeman, community member
  • Richard Broome, community member
  • Renee Gavin, community member
  • Sarabeth Rees, community member
  • David Swingle, community member

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