Hecla Mining Co. and Asarco Inc. have filed a countersuit against a federal lawsuit alleging eight mining companies are liable for an estimated $600 million cleanup of the Coeur d’Alene River Basin.
The action, filed in U.S. District Court in Boise, responds to a suit filed by the federal government earlier this year. The government claims operations by the mining companies caused extensive environmental damage to 1,500 square miles of the basin.
Sunshine Mining and Refining Co. of Boise and Coeur d’Alene Mines Corp. filed an answer to the suit before the May 17 deadline, but Coeur d’Alene Mines did not file a countersuit.
The remaining companies listed in the federal suit are either former subsidiaries of the four mining companies or companies they subsequently have absorbed.
The countersuit claims the government had substantial control over mining activity in the Silver Valley during World War II and the Korean War and therefore shares in any cleanup liability, said Holly Houston, Coeur d’Alene Basin Mining Information Office executive director.
The countersuit strategy will, in effect, turn the federal government into a defendant in the case, Hecla general counsel Michael White said.
“We believe that we have valid claims and yes, we will litigate them against the government,” he said. “We may not win all of them, but I feel fairly confident that the federal government, at least during the war years, had substantial control of mine production. It contributed to the same activity of mine waste.”
Among other things, Houston said the counterclaim alleges that the government’s estimate of $600 million for environmental cleanup far exceeds the amount necessary.
Local mining companies earlier estimated the cost at $50 million.