- Associated Press - Friday, March 25, 2016

KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) - Though cleanup efforts at the shuttered Columbia Falls Aluminum Co. are underway, Sen. Jon Tester says he still wants the plant listed as a federal Superfund site to make sure the cleanup stays on track.

The Montana Democrat toured the site Thursday, and said he was happy the 800-acre industrial site was beginning to be cleaned, but that he still supports intervention from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Swiss-based commodity trading giant Glencore closed the plant last year. It had not been in operation since 2009. After the site closed, the EPA formally proposed listing the site as a federal Superfund site.

“I applaud everything they’re doing,” Tester said of Glencore. “But it’s critically important that we keep holding Glencore responsible, and the only agency that can do that is the EPA.”

The plant produced a million pounds of aluminum every day during its height in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, but the work came at a cost. In 2014, the EPA found the levels of cyanide, arsenic, lead and fluoride in the groundwater in and around the plant at levels so high that it qualified as a federal Superfund site.

Because the property is so close to Glacier National Park and on the Flathead River, Tester said it is important Glencore is held responsible for the cleanup.

“We’ve got to keep holding their feet to the fire,” the senator said of Glencore. “If it becomes voluntary, they could walk away at any time.”

Glencore officials said they would prefer to move forward without the Superfund listing.

“It allows the same type of cleanup,” said Cheryl Driscoll, head of U.S. corporate affairs for Glencore. “It would be more efficient in terms of time and cost.”

People who oppose the Superfund listing have said it could attach a stigma to Columbia Falls, hurting tourism and real estate values. Montana Republican U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke instead favors a cleanup effort headed by the state Department of Environmental Quality.

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