CATALDO, Idaho – Federal officials are investigating whether the public received adequate notice and opportunity to comment on a hazardous-waste repository planned near Old Mission State Park.
Two officials from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Inspector General visited the area this week to interview residents about the 20-acre East Mission Flats Repository, which lies in the Coeur d’Alene River floodplain.
The visit was prompted by a complaint filed by the Silver Valley Community Resource Center, said Carla Bassemier, a member of the citizens watchdog group.
The Office of Inspector General is an independent office within the EPA, funded by Congress to conduct audits and investigations.
The repository, which is still in the design stage, would take soil tainted with lead and other mining waste from yard cleanup in the Coeur d’Alene basin. The repository lies across Interstate 90 from Old Mission State Park.
Dr. Jerry Walker, a retired veterinarian, took the EPA auditors to visit the site on Monday. Parts of the 20 acres were under four feet of floodwater, he said.
“I don’t understand why you would put a landfill of toxic material in a floodway,” said Walker, who raises Angus cattle 1.9 miles downstream from the repository. “It doesn’t seem logical to me.”
Mark Stromberg, a project manager with Idaho’s Department of Environmental Quality, said East Mission Flats is already home to 35 million tons of contaminated soil that was deposited in the floodplain by the river or dredged up and put there by mining companies in earlier decades.
By law, repositories must go into areas that are already contaminated, he said.
“There’s a fear that the material will go into the river,” Stromberg said. “First the project would have to fail, and we’re designing it not to fail. And if it did, it wouldn’t go anywhere.”
When it floods, the Coeur d’Alene River enters the site through culverts, he said. The water slows down as hits a treed area, and sediments drop out of the water. The mound of hazardous dirt will be reinforced with riprap to prevent it from eroding. Even if it did erode, the dirt would settle in the flats instead of washing downstream.
The DEQ and the EPA are working together on the project. The latest design plan will be out for public review in June.
Ed Moreen, a project manager in the EPA’s Coeur d’Alene field office, said residents have had many opportunities to learn about and make comments on the repository over the past five years.
“I talk to many people who’ve said they’ve never heard of it,” he said.
But agency officials knocked on doors in 2005, alerting neighbors that the repository was in the planning stages, Moreen said. The repository was also mentioned in “Basin Bulletins,” fliers mailed to hundreds of Shoshone County residents, he said. Residents had opportunities to express any concerns at multiple meetings, he said.
In reaction to public comment, the repository’s proposed height was dropped so the mound of dirt won’t be visible from Old Mission State Park in fall when the leaves drop from the trees, officials said.
About 700 skeptical residents have signed a petition opposing the repository’s location, according to the Silver Valley Community Resource Center’s Web site.
A peaceful “awareness demonstration” is planned at the repository at 2:30 p.m. June 1.
John Manibusan, a spokesman for the EPA’s Office of Inspector General, said officials are in the early stages of researching whether the public had adequate notification and input on the project.
By the end of July, auditors should finish the preliminary stage of their research, and will determine whether to continue the investigation, he said.