Environmental officials say they have a great deal for lawmakers: Spend just $10.7 million for Bunker Hill Superfund cleanup over the next 10 years.
It’s such a good deal, they say, because it works out to be just 5.4 percent of the massive $200 million project. And federal law calls for states to pay almost double that.
The Idaho Natural Resource Trustees explained to lawmakers just what the state would get for its money. Since Bunker Hill owner Gulf Corp. remains embroiled in its bankruptcy case, the cleanup is up to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state.
Under Superfund law, Idaho must kick in 10 percent of the cleanup money. Factoring in work already done by mining companies and other money, the state would need to put up $12.6 million.
House Environmental Affairs committee member Rep. Maynard Miller, R-Moscow, groaned that the cost would be another unfunded federal mandate. But Chuck Moss, former state budget director who is now in charge of the state’s Superfund budget, said Miller could be pleased to see that he and the trustees have pared that dollar figure significantly.
Thanks to improvements being made in two streambeds near the South Fork in the 21-square-mile stretch between Kellogg and Pinehurst, the trustees have convinced federal officials to knock $4.5 million off the state’s bill. The state also settled in November with Union Pacific Railroad and other companies involved in the cleanup; that translates into another $2.2 million reduction.
Add another $3.9 million credits for future development around the site after the cleanup is done, and the state need only pay a total of $5.4 million over the next three years, Moss said.
“I think we have this budget about as tight as you can get when you’re working in a federally led Superfund project,” Moss said.
The state bears responsibility to clean up the large area of old mine tailings and leadlaced deposits visible from Interstate 90 near Kellogg. The area will be capped with fill dirt and then probably converted into play fields or some other recreational use, said Jerry Cobb of the Panhandle Health District.
State taxpayers also will pay the maintenance and operations costs for the 10-year cleanup. That will run $520,000 each year, but those payments ensure that the project won’t explode with cost overruns and create more problems for the state, said Marti Calabretta, coordinator of the natural resource trustees.
Over the next decade, the state will spend $10.7 million of taxpayer dollars for Bunker Hill cleanup, a tidy 5.4 percent of the total cost, Moss said. That’s far better than the 10 percent Superfund law requires.
Calabretta said Gov. Batt endorses the state spending the first $2.26 million in next year’s budget. State budget writers should give thumbs up or down on Bunker Hill money in three weeks, she said.
Silver Valley legislators had words of warning for lawmakers thinking twice about approving the money.
“For those of you who don’t like Bunker Hill or are tired of hearing about it, vote for this funding and it will go away,” said Rep. Tom Dorr, R-Post Falls. “If you don’t, this will continue to come back to us and this display photo of the site behind me will haunt you in your dreams.”
For Rep. Don Pischner, R-Coeur d’Alene and a Silver Valley native, starting the cleanup means reviving an area that has lost a third of its population and nearly two-thirds of its land value since the demise of Bunker Hill.
“We have to realize that what’s happened here has left an awful lot of people behind, not just a pile of trash,” Pischner said. “I don’t mind saying that the people of North Idaho need our help.”