September 24, 2009

State crews continue to gather site-specific information to help determine cleanup plans for the upper Clark Fork River Superfund site.

Last week, state officials managing the upper Clark Fork River Superfund cleanup and restoration gave an update on the work done this summer during an interview on KQRV, the River, 96.9 FM a local radio station broadcasting from Deer Lodge. Station owner, and CFRTAC board member, Bob Toole interviewed Dept. of Environmental Quality and Natural Resource Damage Program staff and Darryl Barton from CFRTAC. (Listen to  the full radio interview here .)

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According to DEQ staff, crews are currently sampling along the uppermost stretch of the Clark Fork River, the 3.7 miles below the Warm Spring Ponds. Residential sampling is also underway in the community of Deer Lodge. Crews are sampling at the KOA and will continue working from north to south at those residential properties nearest the river that may have been contaminated. Next up, DEQ crews will evaluate sites along the Eastside Road, including residences that have never been sampled, those where past work had been done and areas that may have been re-contaminated from properties that were not cleaned up.

"We plan on going right up until we get froze out for the winter," says DEQ project manager Brian Bartkowiak.

On September 23, the DEQ held a public demonstration of its sampling techniques at the Warm Springs Fishing Access Site.

Bartokowiak says the DEQ's data gathering entails examining streambank and channel stability and sampling soils. To do that, the DEQ uses a small excavator to remove soil samples. The crew then uses a field instrument called an XRF (X-Ray Fluorescence), which "looks like a small ray-gun from Star Trek," says Bartkowiak.

Collected soil samples are shot with "the fancy ray-gun" to provide a good idea about the amount of contamination in that soil. "So we have a good idea of what's relatively clean, what's relatively dirty and what samples to send to the lab."

The XRF, by reducing the samples sent to the lab, saves the agency money. Lab results will take a few months but once complete they will be shared with landowners. DEQ will use the information to determine whether a site will be cleaned up and how best to do it.

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Landowners along the river who haven't been contacted about access for sampling, or those along the Eastside Road whose properties may have contaminated by the Eastside Ditch, should call Brian Bartkowiak at 406-461-3070.

And while the sampling work is essential to planning for the cleanup, state officials counseled patience for residents eager to see the actual work begin.

"I understand people are frustrated with how long this process is taking," says Bartkowiak. "I've heard people say all you ever do is sample, sample and more sample. ... What we are trying to do is ... sample carefully, sample the right way and be able to come up with a good design that achieves the cleanup's objectives. So please just bear with us, we'll get through the sampling and you'll actually see some work on the ground coming up next summer."

The DEQ is the lead on the cleanup, though EPA provides oversight and the Natural Resource Damage Program will dovetail its restoration design with the DEQ cleanup plan.

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