BOISE – The Coeur d’Alene Tribe has committed to pay half the cost of managing Lake Coeur d’Alene’s pollution next year, a move that could keep the long-negotiated cleanup plan on track even as Idaho lawmakers look for ways to cut more state spending.
“I think it’s extremely important,” said Helaman Hancock, legislative director for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, which is agreeing to split the cost of implementing the new Coeur d’Alene Lake Management Plan with the state even though it owns just the southern third of the lake.
“One thing that we have to understand here is that if this lake management plan doesn’t get funded, the alternative is a federal Superfund remedy, which is not what we need in Idaho,” Hancock said. “I think everyone agrees Superfund isn’t the answer.”
The state agrees.
Toni Hardesty, Idaho Department of Environmental Quality director, told state lawmakers Friday that funding to implement the new Lake Management Plan is the only new budget item Gov. Butch Otter is recommending in next year’s budget for the state DEQ, which is facing a proposed 16.1 percent cut in its state general funds next year.
The department, which has laid off seven people, eliminated its planning division and is planning to hold eight more positions vacant all next year to help meet the budget cuts, has made the Lake Management Plan funding its top priority for next year.
The funding – $112,900 in general funds and $264,800 from the water pollution control fund – would pay half the initial cost of putting the plan into effect, including staffing, equipment, outreach and education. The tribe would pay the other half.
“The lake management plan I think is the solution,” State Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, said. The plan “is the barest minimum that we can do.”
Hardesty told lawmakers that the 2002 EPA Record of Decision on the Coeur d’Alene basin Superfund cleanup, after extensive work by her predecessor, state officials and Idaho’s congressional delegation, left out any Superfund remedy to clean up heavy-metal pollution buried in sediments at the bottom of the lake. Instead, she said, “The record of decision allowed for the opportunity for the state and the tribe to develop a collaborative lake management plan, and if completed, implemented and effective, EPA would not need to proceed with a Superfund remedy for the lake.”
Efforts to negotiate the plan failed in 2002, 2004 and 2006. In 2008, with the help of a mediator, the draft plan was completed. It includes no new regulations, Hardesty said, instead relying on existing county ordinances and state laws, monitoring and an extensive outreach program to teach people how to avoid adding nutrients to the lake, which can help release pollutants from lake-bottom sediments.
“What we heard from people loud and clear was we don’t want another bureaucracy,” Hardesty said. “When we sat down and looked at the regulations that are already in place, we concluded that wasn’t necessary.”
Many worry that a Superfund designation could hurt the region’s tourism industry.
But to avoid new regulations, Hardesty said, “People have to understand that when they’re fertilizing their lawn or doing other activities, that it can have an impact on the lake.”
She told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, which will decide whether to fund the plan, “Successfully managing the health of Lake Coeur d’Alene and avoiding a Superfund remedy will be contingent upon the action of all who count on this cherished resource.”
Budget committee members expressed some doubt about the plan’s proposed $95,000 for education and outreach, and asked for a detailed list of how that money would be spent. Hardesty said the DEQ is contemplating contracting with an organization like the University of Idaho Extension, which already does related work.
“That for us is a critical part in making this plan work, so that we don’t have to have new regulations,” she said.
Part of the deal with EPA is that there’s no Superfund money available for managing Lake Coeur d’Alene, Hardesty said. That’s why the plan needs state and tribal dollars to work, even in the state’s current tight budget, she said.
Commissioners from Kootenai, Benewah and Shoshone counties submitted a six-page letter opposing the plan in October. But Jorgenson said he thought the commissioners’ position, which included some antipathy toward the tribe, was softening.
“They haven’t worked together in the past, but now I think they’re going to,” Jorgenson said. “There was a meeting just this week between the tribe and the county commissioners from the three counties.”
Kootenai County Commissioner Rick Currie said, “We are in consultation with the tribe and DEQ and those meetings have been positive, but they’re just starting.”
The counties aren’t yet ready to change their position and endorse the management plan, he said, but he’s hopeful the talks will be “fruitful.”
“The good news is that we are talking,” Currie said.