Montana officials anger local landowners

Smokestacks are nothing new. They’ve been part of the American industrial landscape for more than a century. So, why are so many Montana landowners and ranchers up in arms over the 585-foot tall smoker in their backyards? In a recent story by the Associated Press, several people were quoted about their fears related to a state park preserve that is so contaminated no one can go there.

The massive stack, taller than the Washington Monument in DC, is a popular tourist attraction, with visitors climbing to a viewing platform to see the relic of Montana’s mining heyday. Copper was the cash crop in those times when the ore was smelted to provide electricity across the United States. But that technology came with a cost. Toxic metals polluted the ground for miles around the smelter … how much ground? About 300 square miles of contaminated land and water.

Some residents are tired of waiting for the federal government to finish the cleanup work. They want the right to clean up their own property, since the company and the government don’t seem too interested – according to them – in finishing the job.

The company that walked away from the community, Atlantic Richfield, is being sued by residents who are determined to make the firm pay to clean up its own mess. But the company has the EPA on its side, and neither are willing to budge. Now both AR and the EPA are arguing in court that the community’s suit is keeping them from completing the planned cleanup across the wider area.

The EPA is using terms like “acceptable cancer risk,” and this isn’t winning any points with the community. EPA spokesman Robert Moler said the community needs to understand the real risks, “The goal of the cleanup plan is to protect human health, not to restore soil levels to original conditions…”

Residents, even those who once worked for AR and are proud of that work and the company that offered it, say they don’t accept that “arbitrary” measurement. They just want to clean up their yards … but that could cost nearly $750,000 per yard, a cost these folks simply cannot afford to pay.

The case has been winding through the courts for about eight years, with the community winning more often than not, both in court and in the court of public opinion. Now, AR is ready to put an end to it, and is petitioning that the case be heard by the Montana Supreme Court. This is an iffy proposition, because any high court decision, at the state or federal level, could set a precedent that would impact pollution cleanup cases nationwide. And a win for the community will re-energize other communities that have been fighting. Should be interesting to watch.

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Ronn Torossian is the Founder, President and CEO of New York-based 5W Public Relations. He has overseen the company's rapid growth and expansion to the Inc. 500 list, as well as provided counsel to hundreds of companies, including members of the Fortune 500, Inc. 500 and Forbes 400. His work spans global interests, corporate entities, high-profile individuals, regional business entities, government agencies and academic institutions - both on routine public relations matters and extremely sensitive issues. One of the foremost public relations experts in the U.S., Torossian is known for his aggressive, results-focused orientation, as well as his close working relationships with members of the media, influencers, decision makers, politicians and celebrities. At 5W Public Relations, Torossian's client experience has included programs for Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Anheuser-Busch, Barnes & Noble, Cantor Fitzgerald, IHOP, McDonald's, Evian, EDS, VeriSign, XM Radio, Seagram's, The Loews Regency, Bad Boy Worldwide Entertainment, Marriott Hotels, Vail Resorts, Pamela Anderson, Snoop Dogg, the Government of Israel, and others. Referred to by The New York Post as a "publicity guru," by Fox News as a "high-powered PR CEO," by Tyra Banks as a "crisis management guru," and by CNN as "a leading PR expert," Torossian is regularly featured in and quoted by the media, including by CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, NBC, The New York Times, and others. CBS National News said "Ronn Torossian knows spin," and a New York Times feature story on Torossian referred to him as "The consummate hard-driving, scrappy NY publicist." Earlier in his career, Torossian was a Vice President/Group Director for one of The InterPublic Group's (IPG) largest PR agencies, where he was responsible for significant client growth and successful client programs, including work for Clinique, Fox News Channel, DHL, Hard Rock Café and others. A resident of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Torossian was named to the Advertising Age "40 Under 40" list, PR Week's "40 Under 40" List, is a regular lecturer at universities and conferences, a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO) and a board member of numerous non-profit organizations.