Location of Libby, Montana
|• Mayor||Brent Teske|
|• Total||1.88 sq mi (4.86 km2)|
|• Land||1.84 sq mi (4.77 km2)|
|• Water||0.04 sq mi (0.09 km2)|
|Elevation||2,096 ft (639 m)|
| • Estimate |
|• Density||1,508.69/sq mi (582.48/km2)|
|Time zone||UTC-7 (Mountain (MST))|
|• Summer (DST)||UTC-6 (MDT)|
|GNIS feature ID||0786083|
Libby suffered from the area's contamination from nearby vermiculite mines contaminated with particularly fragile asbestos, leading to the town's inclusion in the United States Environmental Protection Agency's National Priorities List status in 2002 and Public Health Emergency event in 2009. Most risk was reduced by 2015.
Local natural features such as the Kootenai Falls have attracted tourism to the area and have been featured in movies such as The River Wild (1994) and The Revenant (2015). There is a public school district and a public library, and the town is in-district for Flathead Valley Community College, which operates the Lincoln County Campus there.
Continental and alpine glaciers shaped the area's valleys and lakes. The first indigenous peoples arrived at least 8,000 years ago and hunted and gathered for food. The earliest known American settler, David Thompson, arrived in the 1800s, and early American economic activity included "fur trading, railroad construction, mining, and logging." Miners flocked to Libby Creek in 1867. It was deserted by the 1870s. In 1892, with the arrival of the Great Northern Railway, the town moved downstream and the name was shortened from Libbysville to Libby.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has an area of 1.95 square miles (5.05 km2), of which 1.91 square miles (4.95 km2) is land and 0.04 square miles (0.10 km2) is water. Libby is in the Kootenai National Forest, between the Cabinet Mountains to the south and the Purcell Mountains to the north, the town lies in the heart of the Kootenai Valley along the Kootenai River, and downstream from the Libby Dam. Libby is at an elevation of 2,096 feet (640 m) above sea level.
|Climate data for Libby, Montana|
|Record high °F (°C)||56
|Average high °F (°C)||33.5
|Daily mean °F (°C)||25.9
|Average low °F (°C)||18.2
|Record low °F (°C)||−46
|Average precipitation inches (mm)||1.95
|Source 1: NOAA (normals, 1971–2000)|
|Source 2: The Weather Channel (Records)|
As of the census of 2010, there were 2,628 people, 1,252 households, and 647 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,375.9 inhabitants per square mile (531.2/km2). There were 1,416 housing units at an average density of 741.4 per square mile (286.3/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 95.9% White, 0.1% African American, 1.1% Native American, 0.4% Asian, 0.3% from other races, and 2.1% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.5% of the population.
There were 1,252 households, of which 23.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 36.7% were married couples living together, 11.1% had a female householder with no husband present, 3.9% had a male householder with no wife present, and 48.3% were non-families. 41.9% of all households were made up of individuals, and 19.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.02 and the average family size was 2.71.
The median age in the city was 45.8 years. 19.1% of residents were under the age of 18; 8.4% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 21.4% were from 25 to 44; 28.6% were from 45 to 64; and 22.5% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 48.6% male and 51.4% female.
Libby's economy had been largely supported in the past by the use of natural resources such as logging and mining. Mining and timber mills have since closed down. Tourism is playing an increasing role in the local economy. The Libby Dam is 17 miles (27 km) upstream from Libby, one of the Columbia River Treaty Dams, finished in 1975. Libby is known as the "City of Eagles". Several eagle sculptures can be found around town, including a 60-foot (18 m) eagle at both ends of town.
In 1961, area volunteers opened the Turner Ski Area about 20 miles north of Libby. Owned by a nonprofit foundation, the Ski Area served around 4,600 visits per year in 2017/2018 and relies on volunteer hours and donations for most of its services. In the mid-1980s, a major ski resort was proposed for Great Northern Mountain, twenty miles (30 km) south of Libby. Discussions on land usage and wildlife reached the United States Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in the Subcommittee on Public Lands and Reserved Water, and ultimately the ski resort was not built.
Libby's energy usage includes or potentially includes multiple renewable resources: biomass, hydroelectric, and solar. In 2008, a report found that food pellet waste from nearby lumber mills could be used to produce several megawatts of electricity. The Flathead Electric Co-op began purchasing up to 2.5 megawatts of power from the F.H. Stoltze Land & Lumber Company in 2013 with a twenty year contract, leading to the construction of "a biomass-fueled electric generation facility at their plant near Columbia Falls." The Co-op "receives Renewable Energy Credits." The city also generates and sells hydroelectric energy. In 2020, a statewide appraisal of Montana public schools' solar power potential, the Montana Community Solar Project, assessed Libby's schools and found the buildings had good potential, but installing solar panels would be financially inefficient as the schools' "electric demand charges [were] in the 92nd percentile when compared against the cohort of 25 schools."
In 1919, vermiculite was discovered in the mountains near town. In 1963 W. R. Grace and Company bought the local mine, by which time it was producing 80% of the vermiculite in the world. Because the local vermiculite contains asbestos, and the mine's byproducts were used in local buildings and landscaping, the town suffered from an extremely high rate of asbestosis. Nearly 10% of the population died from asbestos contamination, and the federal government later charged company officials for complicity. On May 8, 2009, W.R. Grace & Co. was acquitted of charges that it knowingly harmed the people of Libby. It was also acquitted of subsequently participating in any cover-up. Fred Festa, chairman, president and CEO said in a statement, "the company worked hard to keep the operations in compliance with the laws and standards of the day." In 2004, Libby, Montana, a documentary on the situation, was released.
On June 17, 2009, the EPA declared its first public health emergency, which covered Libby and nearby Troy. It had provided an additional $130 million in cleanup and medical assistance. The 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act includes a provision which provided Medicare coverage to individuals of such public health emergencies.
By 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was concluding the removal of asbestos-contaminated soils and other suspect materials in and near Libby and had spent $425 million in Superfund money on cleanup. That year, an EPA review of toxicity and risks found that the cleanups had managed asbestos exposure risk effectively. By the end of 2018, the EPA had removed "more than one million cubic yards of contaminated soil," and area cleanup was completed that year, except for the location of the former mine, which is the disposal site of the contaminated soil. Contaminated construction materials were disposed of "in a specially designed landfill cell." The remaining contamination is limited to the forests and property in or near the former mine, with cleanup plans pending and with controls for higher exposures during wildfire fighting.
In 2020, the EPA transferred control of the site to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. The same year, the local Center for Asbestos began offering testing for autoimmune markers for pleural disease, which would act as an early screen for at-risk patients.
Ground water contamination
Libby's lesser known second EPA Superfund site is the Libby Ground Water Contamination site at a former lumber and plywood mill which ceased operations in 1969. The mill's disposal practices and spills contaminated the soil, surface water, and groundwater with chemicals including pentachlorophenol, which the EPA discovered in nearby well water in 1979. Site reviews are held every five years, and as of 2020, several controls are in place to prevent contact with and consumption of contaminated materials.
As of 2020[update] the mayor and city council members are:
- Mayor: Brent Teske
- City Council: Gary Beach, Rob Dufficy, Kristin Smith, Hugh Taylor, Peggy Williams, and Brian Zimmerman
- Kootenai Valley Record - Weekly
- The Western News- biweekly (Lincoln county newspaper of public record)
- The Montanian - Weekly
Libby has a public library, a branch of the Lincoln County Public Libraries. Established in 1920 after residents petitioned the Board of County Commissioners, the county free library first operated out of the former Libby Woman’s Club building. The Woman's Club had formerly sponsored a small library of two thousand books for Libby citizens, and members of the Woman’s Club voted to donate the collection to kickstart the new library's circulating collection. The library moved buildings for the next few decades until its current building, the Inez R. Herrig building, was built in 1964. Branches were established in other county towns, and from 1956 to 1974, a bookmobile served smaller areas. The library now provides programming for children and adults and online services such as mobile data hotspots for borrowing.
Flathead Valley Community College offers courses through its Lincoln County Campus in Libby. This campus operates the Glacier Bank Adult Basic Education Learning Center "where students can take free classes in preparation for their GED exams."
- Steve Gunderson, politician in Montana, serving Montana House of Representatives for District 1
- Ralph Heinert, engineer and politician in Montana, serving Montana House of Representatives for District 1
- John Lovick, magician
- Scott MacDonald, actor
- Duane Nellis, president of Ohio University, LHS class of 1972
- Marc Racicot, Governor of Montana (1993– 2001), Chairman of Republican National Committee (2003-2004), LHS class of 1966
- Keith Tower, NBA player
The nearby Kootenai Falls and the Swinging Bridge were featured in the 1994 movie The River Wild. The original bridge was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression, and the falls are a sacred site to the Kutenai tribes who originally lived in the area.
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