Eye On Boise

New state endowment approved to fund Silver Valley mine-waste water treatment plant

The 4.5 million gallon clarifier at the Central Treatment Plant in Kellogg, shown here Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2010, is where mining wastewater from the Bunker Hill Mine is allowed to sit and settle out the heavy metal contents, which are raked and pumped into the center of the circular tank. The treatment plant, which is contracted by the EPA, will be used in the future to treat water from other parts of the Silver Valley. (Jesse Tinsley)
The 4.5 million gallon clarifier at the Central Treatment Plant in Kellogg, shown here Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2010, is where mining wastewater from the Bunker Hill Mine is allowed to sit and settle out the heavy metal contents, which are raked and pumped into the center of the circular tank. The treatment plant, which is contracted by the EPA, will be used in the future to treat water from other parts of the Silver Valley. (Jesse Tinsley)

Idaho’s state endowment fund has been showing strong returns, so state officials had no qualms this week about designating the endowment fund’s board to also oversee a new, $50 million permanent endowment, this one to permanently cover all costs of operating a water treatment plant to help clean up mining contamination in the Silver Valley.

The $50 million comes from Hecla Mining Corp. as part of a settlement of a giant Superfund lawsuit covering multiple companies and a wide swath of the Coeur d’Alene Basin where a century of mining spread contaminants harmful to people, fish, birds and more. A 2011 consent decree covering Hecla’s portion of the settlement required the company to deposit $66 million with the federal court; an amendment to that decree is expected by the end of this month to release the funds for cleanup activities.

Under the plan, the federal Environmental Protection Agency will use $15 million of the funds to expand an existing water treatment plant in Kellogg and operate the plant for the next five to 10 years, until those funds are spent. The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality will then take over, and it’s responsible for using the investment earnings from the remaining $50 million to operate the plant in perpetuity.

Idaho’s five top state elected officials, sitting this week as the state Board of Land Commissioners, approved setting up the new endowment and having the Endowment Fund Investment Board oversee its investment. That’s the group that now oversees the investment of the state’s $1.7 billion permanent endowment, whose earnings largely benefit the state’s schools.

So far this year, Idaho’s endowment fund has gained 17.5 percent from investment earnings. “We’re looking to come in with a strong result for the fiscal year which ends June 30,” investment manager Larry Johnson told the Land Board. The endowment’s earnings have been strong enough that it’s built up five years of reserves, so for the first time in several years, the annual distribution to Idaho’s public schools next year is expected to rise slightly, from $31.3 million to $31.5 million. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.




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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog.

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