Recently I received questions from a concerned Northport resident regarding land value, livestock permits, economic value, and air and water quality; in reference to the EPA/Teck Upper Columbia Studies and Clean-up.
I forwarded those questions along to our EPA Project Manager, Laura Buelow. Laura, Kay Morrison, (Community Involvement Coordinator), and Marc Stifelman, (EPA Toxicologist), responded to these questions. I found both the questions and answers informative and wanted to share them for any other interested Northport residents.
Below are the questions submitted from the Northport resident, and the EPA’s answers.
Q: How does this affect the value of the land for taxes, finance, appraisals, selling?
A: The Steven’s County assessor is a good place to start, also check with your realtor or John Cochran. John is our contact on the Washington Realtor’s Association (http://www.warealtor.org/ )
Q: Are people having problems selling land due to the contamination?
A: We have heard that property is being sold, but don’t have any details past that.
Q: Is there a land conservation group willing to purchase the land at fair market value?
A: Kay did a search on the term “land conservation groups in Washington state” and found a lot of information that residents may want to look into. We don’t currently have a relationship with any land conservation group. Here are a few of the links residents might try, as well as this google search:
Q: How can you sell the land if there is contamination – are we liable for the contamination for the next owner? Who pays for the testing? Who is responsible for the clean up now and in the future?
A: EPA will not hold residents liable for this contamination. Washington has disclosure requirements that can be found on the state’s website:
REAL PROPERTY TRANSFERS — SELLERS’ DISCLOSURES
The testing is being paid for by Teck American, Inc as part of the remedial investigation/feasibility study. The testing in 2016 will be conducted by Teck and their contractor, with oversight by EPA. The soil clean ups that were performed in 2014 were paid for by Teck and conducted by Teck’s contractors with oversight by EPA. If additional soil clean ups are necessary, the landowner will not be responsible for the cost.
Q: Future clean up – how many years for re-testing? Who pays for the testing and clean up in the future?
A: We’ll determine if, and where, additional areas need to be sampled based on the 2016 study. We can’t guarantee that we’ll do another round of testing, and we don’t have additional residential soil sampling scheduled out past 2016.
Q: Is the ground becoming contaminated via air – water?
A: EPA believes the data shows that the soil became contaminated from historic smelting operations at the Trail smelter, specifically the metals coming out of the smelter stacks (air). The smelter has been in operation since the 1890s. In the 1990s, the smelter went through a major improvement and the air emissions significantly decreased. We have received requests from the community to perform air monitoring and we are looking into the existing data to determine if additional air monitoring is necessary for the remedial investigation/feasibility study. Our focus right now is getting residential properties sampled.
Information: These are good questions for the Washington State University extension office for Stevens County – their website is http://ext100.wsu.edu/stevens/
From the web site:
“Washington State University Stevens County Extension connects the people of Stevens county to the research and knowledge bases of the state’s land grand research university providing solutions to local problems and stimulating local economies. Our county-based educators work with partners in your communities to provide educational programs and leverage the broad resources of a major university to resolve issues and create a positive future for the residents of Stevens county.”
Q: Can we produce and sell food/livestock raised on contaminated field? I read that we have to get a special permit for that?
A: Individual soil sampling results would need to be discussed specifically with Laura Buelow, EPA Project Manager (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Q: If so, does the produce/livestock have to be tested?
A: See above
AIR & WATER QUALITY
Q: How often is either tested? How do we get theses tested?
A: Air was last tested in the U.S. by Ecology in the 1990s. Teck monitors air in Trail and we are working to get as much of that data as possible. Several studies have been completed under the remedial investigation/feasibility study. We have sampled river water, beaches, fish, sediment, and soil. The results of each study are compiled as Data Summary Reports and listed at this website: http://www.ucr-rifs.com/ The website is run by Teck specifically for this study and has more background information. EPA’s most recent fact sheet that gives a summary of everything done to date is here: https://www3.epa.gov/region10/pdf/sites/ucr/fact_sheets/UCR_Site_Invest_SU_Nov_14.pdf
Q: How can the community develop future economic bases? How can we draw companies here?
A: This is outside the scope of our work at this stage of the study. There is an organization called the Tri-County Economic Development District (http://tricountyedd.com/ ) that serves Northeast Washington – Ferry, Pend Oreille, and Stevens Counties.
Q: What studies are being done on the wildlife and vegetation and the affects of the pollution has on them? Forest health?
A: The ecological risk assessment is part of the RI/FS and it will determine if there is any issues with the plants and animals.
Q: There seems to be a lot of studies done at universities – are any doing studies here?
A: Contact Jamie Paparich at The Northport Project: email@example.com
Q: How many groups are involved with this? Coordination? Meeting Schedules? Funding? Accountability?
A: EPA and Teck signed a Settlement Agreement in 2006, which is a legal contract that sets out how the study will be conducted. Teck funds all of the work. EPA also has an agreement with the U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington Department of Ecology, the Colville Tribe, and the Spokane Tribe to participate and provide input on all of the sampling plans and documents. Teck funds these parties as well. There is also the Citizen’s for a Clean Columbia (the CCC). They have a technical advisor and Teck funds the time for the advisor. EPA has had community meetings in Northport approximately every 6-8 months for the last 3 years, mostly focused on the soil sampling.
Here is a link to EPA’s page with legal / enforcement documents, including the 2006 agreement: https://yosemite.epa.gov/R10/CLEANUP.NSF/UCR/Enforcement
Q: Is there a early warning system in place that goes out to the residents when pollutants are released in the river? Like a reverse 911.
A: Ecology receives the notice of spills from the Trail smelter.
Q: How come the fines Teck pays to Canada for environmental discharges are not distributed to the US?
A: I’m not sure what these fines would be. Teck is paying to all of the remedial investigation/feasibility study.
Hello! Clifford Ward here. I am Vice Chair of Citizens for a Clean Columbia and I can try to help answer some of the above questions. Some real estate is being sold, however our Upper Columbia region does not seem to be selling like other parts of the county. I personally have a property that has been on the market for over 3 years that has not sold. We recently asked our County Assessor for lower taxes in the Upper Columbia region, (because of pollution and the stigma) but he refused.
CCC has been pushing for an air monitor below the border for years now. Teck’s smokestacks are tall and the size of the particulate matter being discharged from them is quite small, which means they have the ability to travel far. To address the last 2 questions above: Teck continues to have accidental spills, some of which we only hear about long after the fact. Teck was recently fined (in Canada) over $3,000,000 for spills and some or all of that money was to be earmarked towards the environment. Seeing as there are only a few river miles in Canada and many in the US that the spilled pollution travels through etc., does the US get any of that money earmarked for the environment? I do not know the answer to that, but I doubt it.
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Thanks for the info Cliff! All great information, well said!
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