The quickest, best and cheapest way to clean up mining pollution in the Coeur d’Alene River Basin, Republican Sen. Larry Craig said Monday, is likely to be a trust fund controlled by locals.
“If we handle it smartly, my guess is that you’ll get three times the work done with half the money,” said Craig.
Idaho’s senior senator plans to present a basin cleanup plan to Congress this year. But he said it’s going to be difficult to wring much federal funding out of Congress.
“You can’t create an open-ended entity that goes on spending millions and millions year after year,” he said. “That cash cow done dried up.”
Craig was in Coeur d’Alene Monday to meet with mining companies, Coeur d’Alene tribal officials, and a citizens committee on basin cleanup legislation.
“I believe we’ve moved a lot closer toward some general positions of consensus,” he said.
Last summer, the Coeur d’Alene Indians were criticized as being unrealistic when they suggested a $1 billion cost to restore the ecosystem, damaged by a century of mining wastes.
In June, the tribe released a $515 million proposal for a “moderate” cleanup effort. Mining companies have suggested a much more modest $121 million cleanup proposal.
Craig said a local trust fund, with federal, state and private money, could be set up to pay for cleanup work over a period of years. He said it would be more effective - and easier to swing through a budget-cutting Congress.
“I want dollars to hit the ground, slow the loading of the heavy metals and rehabilitate the stream banks,” he said. “If you’ve got the scientists and have established the problem, there’s no reason to wait five years.”
The undesirable alternative, he suggested, would be a federal Superfund listing.
“That would be the wrong thing. We created a litigation monster out there, and that should not be the answer to a major problem,” he said.
A similar trust fund cleanup is going on upstream. Mining companies contributed $5.4 million to a cleanup fund. Part of the money is being used to remove old mine tailings from nearly three miles of Nine Mile Creek.
One mile east of Elizabeth Park in the Silver Valley, the mine trust fund is paying $350,000 to pull old tailings into a dike and install a cloth barrier and riprap to prevent erosion of the contaminated waste.
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