HELENA — Gov. Greg Gianforte on Tuesday announced a proposed settlement agreement in the case of WR Grace & Co.’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy for the Libby Asbestos Superfund site in Lincoln County.
The proposed settlement, filed with the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware, would order WR Grace to pay $18.5 million to resolve the remaining claims of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. The proposed settlement is the result of three years of mediation between the state through DEQ and the Natural Resource Damage Program (NRDP) and WR Grace.
NRDP would receive the $18.5 million plus interest over ten years, with the first $5 million maturing over six months. The state says the funds would be used to restore, replace or rehabilitate damaged natural resources in the Lincoln County area and the associated costs.
“After years of negotiation following Grace’s historic damage, Libby and the Lincoln County communities have a better chance to recover,” Gov. Gianforte said. “I look forward to the positive impact this settlement can have for the people of Libby and Lincoln County.”
WR Grace’s history in Libby dates back to 1963 when the company purchased an asbestos-contaminated vermiculite mine located within 10 miles of the town. According to EPA studies, the mine released around 5,000 pounds of asbestos every day until it closed in 1990. The site was placed on the EPA’s Superfund list in 2002 due to asbestos contamination caused by mining operations.
A number of diseases have been linked to asbestos exposure such as bronchogenic carcinoma and mesothelioma. Miners were not the only ones affected in Libby, many area residents who had never worked at the mine have been diagnosed with asbestos exposure diseases.
DEQ previously received $5.1 million in a 2008 bankruptcy settlement with WR Grace. The new proposed comparison is in addition to the 2008 comparison.
The proposed settlement would relieve WR Grace of liability for damage to natural resources. and other affiliates to the State of Montana for the Libby Asbestos Superfund Site. The settlement would also resolve their liabilities to the Department of Environmental Quality regarding hazardous or noxious substances, albeit with certain limited exceptions.
This settlement would not affect WR Grace’s requirements to continue conducting Superfund work, subject to EPA oversight with DEQ consultation. As part of the settlement, WR Grace would also provide the state with a financial commitment to operate and maintain the dam at the Kootenai development for the next 100 years.
According to the Montana Board of Investments, the state had about $2 million at its disposal Invested in WR Grace and Co. since June of last year. This investment represents only a small portion of Montana’s $13 billion total holdings.
The state of Montana is accepting comments on the proposed settlement until February 13, 2023.