KELLOGG – A citizens group asked the nation’s top Superfund official to halt construction of a mine waste repository at East Mission Flats during a Wednesday meeting in Idaho’s Silver Valley.
Storing 40,000 truckloads of waste in the Coeur d’Alene River’s floodplain is too risky, said members of the Silver Valley Community Resource Center. “It’s the worst place to build a repository,” said Barbara Miller, who heads the center. “The people have said no to it.”
Mathy Stanislaus listened, but he made no promises.
Later, he heard from contractors, who said a delay in opening a new repository for Superfund waste could slow down cleanup efforts. To reduce the level of lead in children’s blood, the Environmental Protection Agency is paying for tainted dirt to be removed from Silver Valley yards and replaced with clean soil. About $15 million in federal stimulus money is supporting the effort.
Stanislaus is the Obama administration’s senior political appointee on Superfund issues. His visit to the Silver Valley came after Congressman Walt Minnick called Lisa Jackson, the EPA’s top administrator, and asked that the repository location be examined at the highest level, said John Foster, Minnick’s press secretary.
Stanislaus spent Tuesday evening and Wednesday in the Coeur d’Alene Basin, attending meetings and touring the East Mission Flats repository site. The site’s location across Interstate 90 from Old Mission State Park also is controversial. The mission, built in the 1850s, is Idaho’s oldest building.
The Bunker Hill Superfund complex is one of the nation’s largest Superfund sites, spanning roughly 1,500 square miles. Over decades, mining pollution washed down the Coeur d’Alene River, flowing into Lake Coeur d’Alene and the Spokane River.
“This is a tough issue, and this is 100 years in the making,” said Stanislaus, referring to the magnitude of the contamination.
“We do need to site repositories to do the cleanup,” he told the group. And the cleanup needs to move forward because “we need to protect people as quickly as possible,” Stanislaus said.
Stanislaus told the group that he would examine a $420,000 review of the East Mission Flats repository, which was done by the EPA’s Office of Inspector General.
Meanwhile, contaminated soil could begin arriving at the repository next week.
Angela Chung, the EPA’s Bunker Hill Superfund team leader, said the agency has been waiting for a final response from the inspector general’s office, which arrived last week, before bringing contaminated soil to the site. Questions raised in the inspector’s June report have been answered satisfactorily, Chung said.
The EPA agreed to put in additional monitoring wells to address concerns about the potential impact of flooding and groundwater movement.
In addition, an EPA expert geochemist and a hydrologist, neither of whom were involved in the repository design, reviewed it and found it “technically sound,” Chung said.
Hauling additional mine waste to the site will begin in earnest next year unless Stanislaus decides to halt the project, Chung said.
Stewart Contracting of Pinehurst employs 60 people who are working on yard cleanup, said Erik Panke, the company’s financial controller.
If the East Mission Flats repository doesn’t proceed on schedule, other repositories could run out of space, slowing the pace of cleanup, he said.
“These guys will be begging in the streets, or they will move somewhere else for another job,” said Panke, gesturing to about two dozen construction workers who attended the meeting.