A spider-style excavator has its four legs anchoring it in place on the shoreline of the Swan River, straddling a boulder pile immediately upstream from the Bigfork Hydroelectric Plant. The Plant sits along the edge of the river where it empties into Bigfork Bay, and then on into Flathead Lake. PCBs originally from electrical transformers long since removed from the property are being blamed as the source. Soil samples turned up PCB contamination in this area, and one just downstream from the plant in 2009.
PCB’s were used in the past as coolants and insulation in electrical transformers. They were banned in the US decades ago. The plant was built in 19-02 and is now owned and operated by PacifiCorp. Project Officer Chris Cote with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality says PacifiCorp is working with the state through its Voluntary Cleanup and Redevelopment Program. Cote says this site is good for the Voluntary program because it involves a relatively small section of land, about 20-feet.
“Really, the idea is to get cleanup work done in a much more streamlined fashion. To allow the responsible parties to go out and conduct the necessary work, and then present that to DEQ, and allow these sites to get cleaned up a little bit quicker than they would be otherwise,” Cote said.
Spokesman for PacifiCorp David Eskelsen says work started in early February. It was originally supposed to last about a week, but has lasted through the month. The plan called for using a vacuum truck to remove the sediment from the shoreline, “and that worked well for one section of the cleanup,” Eskelsen said, “but, for the other side of the plant, the soil conditions for of the stream bed were just too heavy for that method to work. So, we were able to bring an excavator in and a combination of hydraulic excavator and the vacuum truck got the job done.”
Eskelsen says a large crane was also brought in to move equipment, and dirt, as needed.
“The only remaining step now,” Eskelsen said “they have set the removed soils aside in a lined pit that they prepared, and then that will be put in trucks and hauled away to an approved storage- an approved disposal facility.”
PacifiCorp will then file a report with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency detailing the work done, and with new soil sample readings. The environmental agencies will then either sign off on the project, or require additional cleanup work.