The Montana Department of Justice Natural Resource Damage Program issued a press release on Monday stating that damages at the Smurfit Stone Frenchtown mill site will be the subject of a ‘pre-assessment screen’.

Environmental Science Specialist with the State of Montana, Tom Mostad, said the pre-assessment is part of the Super Fund process.

“What people don’t always understand is that part of the Super Fund process is not only the remediation side, that is through the DEQ and the EPA, but is also a restoration side which allows the State of Montana to sue for injuries to the natural resources or lost services due to the release of hazardous substances,” said Mostad. “The pollution includes metals, PCB’s, dioxins that have been released to the surface water, the ground water, the sediments, and the riparian areas. The unfortunate thing about dioxins is that they bio-accumulate in fish, birds and wildlife as a result of the releases.”

Following the pre-assessment, Mostad said the next step would be a full damage assessment.

“The EPA is requiring the potentially responsible parties to gather their own data about damages,” he said. “We have the option, after comment from the ‘PRP’s’ to gather more data, or they can cooperate and gather the data to investigate just how much these resources have been injured.”

Mostad said the flood did not initiate the pre-assessment, but it did bring to the forefront the concerns for the pollution that lies behind the protective berms.

The EPA process is likely to take several years.

“What comes of it will depend upon the sampling results that we get, and what the feasibility study says the cleanup will be and how the responsible parties want to either cooperate, or whether or not we need to have further legal action.”

The potentially responsible parties, including West Rock, M2Green, International Paper, BNSF Railroad and Montana Rail Link will have 30 days to determine whether to participate in an assessment of the natural resource damages.

The toxins and pollutants at the site were built up over 50 years from the Frenchtown mill.

The Montana Natural Resource Damage Program (NRDP) represents the Governor of the State of Montana, the Trustee for natural resources for the State of Montana. The Federal Trustees for the Site are the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, and the Tribal Trustees are the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the Kalispell Tribe. The Site is proposed to the National Priorities List.