What happens next for the Columbia Falls Aluminum Plant is a question city residents are asking. Senator Jon Tester was in Columbia Falls Tuesday talking with city officials and members of the community about the future for the plant, and both the city and the Senator expressed frustration with the aluminum plant owner Glencore. Glencore has said a more favorable electricity rate from the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) would help them reopen.
“We did our best to get BPA to come to the table and meet the requests and once the requests were met the goal posts were moved, and the plant never did get opened up,” Tester said. Earlier this month both Senator Tester and Senator Max Baucus called on the Environmental Protection Agency to study whether contamination levels at the plant pose a risk to the community, and to future business at the site.
“I think it is time now for the community to help drive a potential assessment on that property, to be able to- if not use it for an aluminum smelter, to use it for something else, and it’s a valuable piece of infrastructure that’s provided good jobs for 55 years, and if it’s time has passed, it’s time has passed,” Tester said.
Columbia Falls Mayor Don Barnhart says Glencore has talked of reopening several times with no action, and it’s wearing thin on the community. He said right now the idea of the EPA looking at the site, and calling for clean-up could produce a different, and welcome series of jobs.
“At this point, I’m not predispositioned to which way I’m going to go, but it would have to be a pretty good argument to be able to tell the EPA that we’re really not interested in them coming out here and doing their exploratory work,” Barnhart said.
The Columbia Falls Aluminum Plant closed its doors in October 2009.