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Columbia Falls Superfund site faces potential power problems

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Redevelopment continues at the old Columbia Falls Aluminum Company site, and planners now have some buildings for new businesses to move into, but a recent power problem could stop the progress.

Crews are almost finished tearing down old buildings, but there are still some left standing for new businesses to move into.

"We intentionally left several buildings -- three warehouses, a fabrication shop and an administration building -- in hopes of site redevelopment," said CFAC environmental manager Steve Wright.

Now there’s a catch, Bonneville Power Administration said it plans to completely decommission the old substation that used to run power to CFAC. Wright said the power from the old Conkelley Substation is something potential buyers are interested in.

"We thought having those three transmission lines would be an asset to the site, and without them it would be just another hurdle to redevelopment of the site," Wright said.

Bonneville spokesman Kevin Wingert told NBC Montana the substation is already partly decommissioned, and it would be too costly to get it up to speed.

"It serves no load currently and is in poor condition,” Wingert said. “We currently have the facility scheduled for decommission in the near future."

Wingert told NBC Montana there are other power options. Currently the CFAC site sits near a 230-kilovolt transmission line corridor. Power could come from building a new substation or connecting to another point on the power grid.

CFAC is lobbying state and local officials to ask BPA to reconsider shutting down the Conkelley Substation.

"For a larger industrial or commercial operation it would be a real attribute to have that much power here," said Wright

Wright told NBC Montana the substation is unique to have three transmission lines come to one site. He said the lines come from Hungry Horse Dam, Libby Dam and the Kalispell and Hot Springs line.

If a business wanted to get power to the site they would have to go through Flathead Electric Cooperative, and BPA said they are ready to work with FEC to figure out the best way to get power to the site.

For now, it looks like CFAC will have to market the buildings without the power that ran the aluminum site years ago.

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