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Judge orders Superfund Site case to court

United States District Court Judge Richard H. Kyle issued an order Tuesday allowing the property damage claims from the St. Regis Superfund Site to proceed effective June 30.

The actions had been stayed as of June 21, 2005, to allow the EPA and the responsible parties to gather and consider additional data.

Twenty Cass Lake residents are plaintiffs in the civil action against International Paper Company, which owns the Superfund Site, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, Dow Chemical and Monsanto.

Attorney Mark Rodgers, who represents the plaintiffs, said the EPA process can be very lengthy.

"It could take many, many years," he said. (The judge's order) allows us to make the claim in a court of law rather than waiting for the EPA process."

The case will be heard by Kyle in Duluth federal court, Rodgers said.

If the judge rules in favor of the plaintiffs, they will be relocated from their homes on the St. Regis Superfund Site and compensated for their property.

The St. Regis Paper Co. operated in Cass Lake as a wood preserving plant from 1957 until it was closed in 1985. Champion Paper bought the St. Regis Paper Co. in 1985. It was designated a Superfund cleanup site in 1984. The plant was situated west of Pike Bay, east of State Highway 371, south of U.S. Highway 2 and north of Fox Creek. International Paper bought the site in 2000. The site has been contaminated by the chemicals used in wood preserving. Dioxin is of special concern as the background rate for the chemical is about 3 parts per trillion, but up to 1,000 PPT in the Superfund Site.

In a separate action, the same 20 plaintiffs have filed a civil complaint for further damages to their health. The complaint alleges that the defendants were negligent in their actions, misrepresented the situation and omitted telling the plaintiffs the truth about the site.

The complaint states that the plaintiffs failed to provide adequate warnings to the general public to alert residents of the potential risks of coming in contact with hazardous substances. The complaint also alleges that the plaintiffs failed to enclose the site to prevent the public from entering a contaminated zone and failed to properly dispose of hazardous byproducts dumped in the soil.

The court has taken no action on the second complaint.