State environmental regulators have given nods to underground fuel tanks and a lagoon system to treat wastewater at a planned Love’s truck stop off Interstate 90 next to Ramsay.
“Based on its review, DEQ determined that the project will not lead to significant adverse effects on the human or physical environment and no further analysis is needed,” the Montana Department of Environmental Quality said Tuesday.
It accompanied a final environmental assessment of plans by Love’s Travel Stops to build a sprawling truck stop complex next to Ramsay, a tiny community of about 40 homes that has been fighting the project since Love’s announced its plans in January 2017.
Residents say the truck stop 7 miles west of Butte will bring traffic, noise, pollution, transients and crime to their community, and a leader in their opposition said Wednesday they will keep fighting the project before county officials and in court.
“We’re going to go as far as we can to prevent it,” said Ramsay resident Jim Ayres. “We will exhaust all legal remedies.”
But the DEQ’s assessment was one more hurdle Love’s has cleared — a major one at that — and a statement issued by the Oklahoma City corporation Wednesday indicated its plans are going forward.
“Love’s is committed to protecting the environment where we operate — and where our employees live and raise their families,” the statement said. “We’re continuing our due diligence on the Ramsay location so we can serve customers in the region."
Love’s has 510 locations in 41 states, including in Missoula and Hardin. Some are just convenience stores that also sell gas, some are full-fledged truck stops. The one at Ramsay would include a store, an Arby’s restaurant, a casino, a tire shop and parking for at least 110 semis.
The DEQ’s assessment means permits for the underground tanks will be issued soon, said agency spokesman Kevin Stone, and plans and specifications are undergoing final engineering review. That process should be completed within 30 days, he said.
The Montana Department of Transportation was awaiting DEQ approval of the lagoon sewer plan before issuing an approach permit for interstate ramp widening work as part of the project. An agency official was checking on its status Wednesday.
Butte-Silver Bow officials must issue a location permit for the project to proceed, and it, too, was pending DEQ approval. If and when it is issued, Ramsay residents plan to appeal it to the county Zoning Board on claims it violates Ramsay zoning provisions. Any decision the board makes can be appealed to District Court.
An email was sent to county planning officials Wednesday asking about the status of the location permit.
Meanwhile, District Court Judge Robert Whelan has yet to decide whether Love’s gets a liquor license for a casino that’s part of the planned complex. Ramsay residents are trying to overturn a state agency’s ruling that granted the license and it’s been a year since Whelan held oral arguments in the case.
The DEQ’s final analysis was expected, since it issued a draft assessment in September making many of the same conclusions. A final assessment was put on hold so the agency could take public comments, and there were many opposing the lagoon system.
Lagoons are often used to capture and stabilize wastewater, store it during winter months, and have it applied for agricultural purposes during warmer months. They are common in the U.S. but do come with management requirements in Montana.
According to the DEQ’s assessment:
• No impact would be made to water quality since “no water discharges to groundwater or surface water are proposed." There is no significant surface water within a half mile of the proposed storage tanks, they will be double-walled and proper handling would decrease potential for any harm.
• The lagoon irrigation system meets standards and vegetation would be able to absorb the applied wastewater and nutrients.
• Prior to use, the lagoons must be leak-tested. Drillings at their planned location showed groundwater at depths greater than 40 feet, significantly deeper than the bottom of the lagoons. Should any unanticipated leakage occur, the depth would provide additional treatment to the effluent before reaching groundwater.
• No significant impact to air quality is expected with the lagoon system. Wind monitors would shut down the irrigation spray if winds exceed 20 mph. The potential for petroleum vapors from the underground fuel tanks would be mitigated by natural air currents, among other things.
• The agency said it doesn’t expect significant odor impacts. The lagoons would smell at times in the spring and fall, but they would be about 1,400 feet to the east of Ramsay and the prevailing wind direction would be away from the town.
• No significant noise is expected from the operation of the truck stop. No lighting issues are under DEQ review.
Ramsay residents raised numerous concerns about the tanks and lagoon system and Ayres said the DEQ seemed to dismiss them without taking the town into account.
“To me, it seems unfair that somebody else gets to decide what is the significant impact for a residential neighborhood,” he said. “It’s always been just a residential neighborhood.”
The DEQ addressed emissions from the storage tanks, Ayres said, “But what about all the trucks that are using the product coming out of the storage tanks? That’s not anything they had to deal with.”
The analysis mentioned safeguards that Love’s plans with the tanks, Ayres said, but “You don’t have to look very far to see what can happen when there’s human error.”
He was referencing a recent 485-gallon diesel overflow of underground fuel tanks at a Town Pump at 3700 Harrison Ave. in Butte that sent an unknown amount of diesel into Blacktail Creek. Town Pump said it occurred when a trucking company worker overfilled the tank.
Ayres said the town and its school rely on an aquifer for water and there’s no backup if it is contaminated by the tanks or lagoons. He also said he was recently in Arizona and could smell odors from a lagoon system much farther away than Ramsay will be to the proposed one here.
Ayres said residents believe they have a great case to make on zoning issues, and if a county location permit is issued, they have hired an attorney and will make their case to the Zoning Board.