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St. Regis Superfund site: Citizens hear update from EPA

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News Bemidji,Minnesota 56619
Bemidji Pioneer
St. Regis Superfund site: Citizens hear update from EPA
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

CASS LAKE -- The Environmental Protection Agency addressed about 30 people during a meeting at the Cass Lake-Bena Elementary School Tuesday night to update citizens on the St. Regis Superfund site.


The St. Regis Paper Company was a wood treatment plant that operated from 1958-1984 and contaminated the site and adjacent areas.

Tuesday's meeting was not initially planned by the EPA, which added it to the schedule after citizens attending a June meeting expressed frustration with the timeline of remedial actions. Originally, the June meeting was to be the final update before a public hearing in which the EPA will present its preferred option for cleanup of the site.

EPA Remedial Project Manager Tim Drexler's presentation was essentially the same as the one he made in June, but he noted that the first draft of a feasibility study by primary responsible parties (International Paper and BNSF Railway Co.) was received last week and is currently under review by the EPA and its agency partners, the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

The review will take about 30 days, Drexler said, after which the primary responsible parties will have 45 days to return a final plan.

Drexler also addressed Enbridge's Alberta Clipper pipeline project, for which excavation is being done near the St. Regis site. The EPA reviewed Enbridge's Environmental Impact Statement, along with the Leech Lake Band.

"We had a number of comments," Drexler said. "There were a number of things they had to do."

For example, Enbridge had to do borings to extract soil and groundwater samples to determine if there were contaminants where digging would take place.

"Where they're digging ... is clean soil, Drexler said. "It's not contaminated soil."

Enbridge also was required to erect two barriers to stop the flow of groundwater, and to install two monitoring wells.

Another recent development is that next week a study will focus on Leech Lake Band hatchery wells that are located near the St. Regis site.

Remedial actions

One remedial action Drexel presented as a possibility for affected residential areas would be to excavate soil and revegetate. In another possibility, the properties would be purchased from the residents; the houses would be demolished and the properties covered with clean soil.

In the former operations area, contaminated areas could be capped or covered with soil and revegetated, or soil could be excavated and replaced with clean soil. Contaminated soil could be hauled for offsite disposal or be placed in a new on-site waste cell.

Permanent cleanup is estimated to begin in a year and a half to two years. EPA's proposed cleanup plan will be presented at a public hearing, likely in January, followed by a 30-day comment period. A Record of Decision will be completed in about July 2010 and negotiations will begin in about January 2011 with International Paper and BNSF Railway Co., as well the Leech Lake Band and the MPCA, with a consent decree expected in about September 2011. After a design period, remedial actions will start in about March 2012.

Financial responsibility for remedial actions lies with the primary responsible parties, Drexler said.

"Superfund is all about polluter pays," he said. "Any remedy that comes out of this, the PRPs will pay for. We will be negotiating with them."


St. Regis was listed on the National Priorities List in 1984, making it eligible for cleanup under the EPA's Superfund program. The site was initially cleaned up by its former owner, Champion International. IP is the current property owner.

Excessive levels of dioxin and other harmful chemicals prompted a human health and ecological risk assessment. Several tons of contaminated soil were removed, wells and extraction systems were installed to clean contaminated groundwater, and interim measures such as periodic housecleaning, topsoil removal and dust suppression on unpaved roads were taken to protect affected residents.

The St. Regis Superfund site has four sections:

- The northwest portion of the former operations area.

- The southwest operations area and location of an on-site vault.

- The former Cass Lake dump that accepted site waste.

- The residential area surrounding the site.

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