By Ted Lanzano
On February 19th, after nearly 15 years of environmental work, the Missoula Sawmill property became fully “ready for reuse”. This long-awaited news from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) brings relief and excitement to the community as redevelopment plans begin to accelerate. I’ve worked with the city on a number of other Brownfield projects, but it’s a special pleasure to see this one through to completion.
Lying along the Clark Fork River in downtown Missoula, Montana, the sawmill operated until the early 1990s. By the late 1990s, the city and EPA began partnering under a then-new initiative called Brownfields to evaluate the environmental conditions at the site. Through multiple rounds of sampling the soil and groundwater, we found elevated levels of volatile organic compounds, metals, hydrocarbons, and methane coming from buried wood debris. This landed the former sawmill on Montana’s Comprehensive Environmental Cleanup and Responsibility Act list of sites that pose a risk to human health and the environment.
Given the prime location, and the great opportunities for redevelopment, the city and other local stakeholders were undeterred and moved forward with the environmental cleanup. The city applied for and received its first EPA Brownfields Cleanup Revolving Loan Fund grant in 2004, which has now been used to issue a total of $1.8 million in remediation loans. The site also benefitted from an $833,000 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funded Brownfields sub-grant that expedited the cleanup.
While the sawmill cleanup has taken longer than originally anticipated, the city of Missoula, and the multiple stakeholders, agree their perseverance has been worth it. It’s exciting to see redevelopment at the site already proceeding. In 2013, Missoula completed new street and utility access to the site. The city acquired the 15-acre riverside portion of the property, and has completed construction of significant portions of a new public park, including bike paths, greenspace, a pavilion, river access, and the use of historic sawmill objects as public art. On the remaining privately-owned 31 acres, Millsite Revitalization Project, LLP, plans to move forward with mixed retail and housing developments. I’m looking forward to visiting when I’m in Missoula this summer, and can’t wait to see how the area evolves in the years to come.
About the Author: Ted Lanzano is an EPA Brownfields Project Manager in Denver, Colorado, and has been with the Agency for 10 years.