Residents should fight the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to probe mining contamination throughout the Coeur d’Alene basin, the Lake City’s new mayor says.
“We can’t afford it, especially when there’s not a proven health risk,” Steve Judy said in his first State of the City address Tuesday morning before the Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce.
The EPA investigation will hang the Superfund label on Coeur d’Alene, Lake Coeur d’Alene and the rest of the basin, he said. That will bring a stigma that the Coeur d’Alene basin is damaged, unsafe and unclean, he said.
“How do you overcome that perception in the national mind?” Judy asked. “It will be staggering to tourism and to the image we portray to the rest of the world - that Coeur d’Alene is beautiful.”
The EPA announced last week it is going to study contamination from Mullan - near the Montana-Idaho border - to Long Lake, northwest of Spokane. The information will be used to develop a cleanup plan, although the actual cleanup won’t necessarily encompass that much ground.
The federal agency isn’t declaring the entire Coeur d’Alene basin a Superfund site, said Misha Vakoc, an EPA spokeswoman. Instead, the agency is “looking at where the contamination has gone.” That includes contamination from the defunct Bunker Hill mine and smelter and from mining upstream and downstream from Kellogg.
Judy, however, said he is especially concerned about two possibilities.
One is signs that warn against things such as swimmers ingesting water from Lake Coeur d’Alene.
“That’s not acceptable - people won’t understand this is a precautionary measure,” Judy said.
Judy also said he worries about the threat of more landowners being tapped to pay for the cleanup. That would kill economic development because anyone with land where mine tailings have landed is potentially liable, he said.
Judy has contacted U.S. Sen. Dirk Kempthorne, R-Idaho, who is on the EPA oversight committee. Kempthorne was going to meet with EPA Director Carol Browner this week to ask “how can they do this to us?” Judy said.
Judy is taking his anti-EPA message to the Post Falls Chamber’s economic development committee today.
The EPA says it isn’t preparing to put warning signs on Lake Coeur d’Alene beaches. “We don’t know that,” Vakoc said. “We hope not, we don’t want to do that.”
Judy is assuming the EPA will find dangerous levels of contamination in the lake and on its shores, Vakoc said. “We are saying this is the start of a process. … We hope everybody will be actively involved.
“The idea is to clean up the areas that need to be cleaned up as quickly as possible.”
The mayor touched on a broad range of other topics during his Tuesday morning address. He still hasn’t made a decision on a parade permit for the Aryan Nation’s planned April march downtown. But options for denying the permit are limited.
He is encouraging residents not to attend the parade. That will send a message to the Aryans and will avoid threats to public safety.
“Folks in the ultra-minority don’t represent who we are,” Judy said, “and we need to get that message out.”
Other topics included:
Judy’s proposal that an outside consultant be hired to study ways of streamlining the building permit process. Kootenai Medical Center has volunteered to help some of the costs of that study. Real estate firms and builders also will be asked to help foot the bill.
The announcement that the city will soon appoint a committee to consider a master plan for McEuen Field. That includes drawing the boundaries for the area the plan should cover, which could include Memorial Field. People interested in the committee should contact the mayor’s office.
News that negotiations with the Police Department are still stalled over the length of the labor contract. Still, Judy hailed the police officers for continuing to work hard during the impasse.
The possibility that the city will begin charging fees at the Third Street boat launch. Those fees would be used for launch improvements.
Judy and the Police Department will unveil a new initiative for fighting drug and alcohol abuse in the next six weeks, modeled after the “Enough is Enough” program in Boise.
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