Contamination from the past is scheduled for cleanup on the Swan River in Bigfork. The Bigfork hydroelectric power plant sits along the edge of the river where it empties into Bigfork Bay, and then on into Flathead Lake. PCB’s originally from electrical transmitters long since removed from the property are being blamed as the source.
Cleanup has already taken place where the transmitters were sitting, but PCB’s were found in the soil along the shoreline next to the plant.
Pacific corps Spokesman David Eskelsen says they’ll be removing soils along the shoreline that have tested positive for PCB’s by literally sucking them out. “We use a vacuum, a big truck vacuum hose to remove the sediments,” Eskelsen said.
PCB’s were used in the past as coolants and insulation in electrical transmitters. They were banned in the US decades ago. The plant was built in 19-02. Eskelsen says it has the ability to generate up to 4-MegaWatts of energy, or enough to power about 2,000 homes if it was running around the clock. Eskelsen said it doesn’t run that often because of fluctuating water levels and habitat concerns.
Project Manager Chris Cote with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality said an initial PCB cleanup took place further back from the shoreline after testing in 2000. Cote says subsequent testing in 2009 along the shoreline turned up readings above Environmental Protection Agency levels in specific areas. “There were two separate areas identified right at about the high water mark along the shoreline, immediately to the northeast and immediately to the southwest,” Cody said.
He also said EPA standards set a limit of .22 milligrams per kilogram and this spot tested at 1.5 milligrams per kilogram. “They’re a particular concern in the environment just due to their persistence in the environment,” Cote said, “PCB’s are solely a man-made chemical and they do not break down.”
Cote said all together Pacific Corps is looking at cleaning up about 20-feet of shoreline.
Eskelsen said the company is working with the state through its Voluntary Clean Up and Redevelopment Program. He describes maintenance and cleanup around the Bigfork plant as a legacy project.
“When environmental problems are found, even if they are caused by predecessor companies or related operations, that we will work cooperatively with regulating agencies to make sure that these sites are cleaned up and restored to an environmentally responsible condition,” Eskelsen said.
Cote said by working through the Voluntary program Pacific Corps takes the reigns in the study and cleanup of the PCB’s. He said the company will conduct all the work, then present their findings, cleanup plan, and final PCB readings to the DEQ. If the department is satisfied, it signs off on the project.
Eskelsen says they plan cleanup efforts on the Swan River in mid-February and expect it to take less than a week.