Bozeman knew of tainted groundwater before approving subdivision
BOZEMAN, Mont. - On Thursday, the City hosted a public meeting to give an update on their latest efforts to remove toxic gases from Bridger Creek homes, and the nearby landfill site. In his presentation, Public Works Director Craig Woolard mentioned the volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, were first detected in the late 1980s. That prompted an outburst from a Bridger Creek resident, demanding to know why the subdivision was built in the first place, if the city knew the gases were there. Mayor Jeff Krauss abruptly ended the meeting, telling the resident the history of the subdivision was in public record. NBC Montana dug through meeting notes and city documents dating back to the mid-1990s, and learned the city did know about VOCs in the landfill's groundwater at the time the subdivision was approved and built. Bozeman City Manager Chris Kukulski explained, back in the 1990s, environmental quality standards were different and the idea of VOCs getting into people's homes was not an issue considered. The City of Bozeman's Engineering Department helped NBC Montana put together a time line of what the city knew, and when. It started in 1989, when the city took its first groundwater samples at the landfill. The city then installed six gas wells to remove methane. In 1994, elevated levels of the VOCs were discovered in those gas wells. The Department of Environmental Quality instructed the city to address the situation. Work on a system to remove the gases began in 1995. NBC Montana searched City Commission agendas and minutes and found approval of the Bridger Creek Subdivision Phases 2 and 3 went before city leaders at two different meetings in 1996 -- on April 1 and April 15. The issue with the volatile gases never comes up in the documents, and the only mention of the groundwater testing wells involves allowing an easement between the Department of Environmental Quality and the developer.
In the 1990s, there was concern that these compounds could end up in the drinking water, but because the Bridger Creek Subdivision is on the city water system, the City of Bozeman told NBC Montana the VOCs didn't seem relevant, based on the standards they knew at the time. The city gave final approval to Phases 2 and 3 in September of 1996, but it wasn't until the next year that work on the gas removal system was complete. According to the Bozeman Engineering Department, gas levels did not completely fall below federal standards until 2003. City Manager Chris Kukulski also noted that most of the current city leaders, including himself, were not in their current jobs back in the 1990s, so their knowledge of what happened back then is limited to the city documents, which are open to the public. He said he cannot speculate on specifics, but said to his knowledge, the city and the developer did nothing inappropriate based on the standards at the time. The city is now in the process of choosing a remediation system for the landfill, and has $1.7 million budgeted to install the new system this year. Multiple residents in the Bridger Creek Subdivision Phase 3 have filed claims against the city seeking damages.