EPA regional administrator Chuck Clark reassured Gov. Phil Batt on Wedneseday of the federal agency’s intent to confine the Superfund cleanup to the Silver Valley rather than spreading across the Coeur d’Alene River basin.
The Environmental Protection Agency recently announced plans to use its Superfund authority to study the effects of more than a century of mining on the entire basin, including Lake Coeur d’Alene. The current cleanup involves a 21-square-mile “box” around the former Bunker Hill mining and smelter complex.
“Chuck Clark and I both agree that litigation and interminable wrangling over minutiae do not accomplish anything,” Batt said. “We want to accomplish a feasible plan, put the money into cleanup instead of litigation, and I think we developing a pathway to do it.”
Last week, Batt, U.S. Rep. Michael Crapo and U.S. Sen. Dirk Kempthorne urged EPA Administrator Carol Browner and Clark to avoid actions that could devastate North Idaho’s recreation and tourism industries.
Clark said he met with Batt last fall, and Wednesday’s conversation went the same way.
“There’s been a lot of claims about expansion of the box,” Clark said. “We conveyed to the governor in November that wasn’t what we’re trying to do and we recommitted to that today.”
Clark said a mediator is coming for discussion between all interested parties. The EPA also will use 1998 as an opportunity for state and federal agencies to run tests in the basin. Current cleanup projects both upstream and downstream from the Superfund site will continue rather than hanging up on the new study.
“For the lack of a better term, I think it’s all common sense and logic,” Clark said. “We’ve all spent way too much money. I use Bunker Hill as an example of what we didn’t want to happen, to spend 15 years. We’re pushing hard on actions instead of studies.”
“In hindsight, we could have done a better job working with community leaders,” he said. “But no one had totally decided to buy into the process. It was a matter of timing.”