Need for new Silver Valley repository growing

THURSDAY, FEB. 26, 2009, 5:18 P.M.

Site would hold contaminated soil from Superfund work

Idaho’s Silver Valley will soon need a new hazardous-waste repository to accept soil excavated during ongoing Superfund work, a state official said this week.

Multiple sites between Kellogg and Mullan are under consideration for the repository. The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality will hold public meetings this spring to discuss the process for choosing a site, said Andy Mork, a DEQ mine waste program scientist.

The agency wants the repository to be built before a facility at Big Creek fills up. The Big Creek Repository can take material for three to four more years, according to officials’ projections. But that timeline could shorten if federal stimulus money flows into the Silver Valley, accelerating cleanup.

“We want to keep that cleanup machine running,” Mork said.

Federal and state governments spend about $16.5 million annually on cleanup of the Silver Valley’s past mining pollution. Most of the money goes toward ridding residential properties of lead-tainted soil. About 1,200 properties remain on the cleanup list, said Terry Harwood, executive director of the Basin Environmental Improvement Commission.

Replacing the lead-tainted soil in residents’ yards with clean dirt reduces the chance that Silver Valley children will ingest lead. Contractors scrape off up to a foot of dirt and replace it with clean soil. Each residential property produces about 20 cubic yards of dirt.

The new repository would accept lead-laced soil from the upper Coeur d’Alene River Basin. In addition to yard waste, it would take material excavated from other projects. The Environmental Protection Agency has identified 300 other sites polluted with heavy metals in the upper basin. Many of them release metals when the water table rises, contaminating downstream areas.

The new repository would be the Silver Valley’s fifth. Existing repositories are at Mullan, Big Creek and Page. In addition, the EPA and Idaho’s DEQ are in the final design stage for the 20-acre East Mission Flats Repository near Cataldo.

Hundreds of residents signed petitions protesting the East Mission Flats Repository site, which is in the Coeur d’Alene River’s floodplain. Last year, two officials from the EPA’s Office of Inspector General visited the site after the Silver Valley Community Resource Center, a watchdog group, filed a complaint. The officials were investigating whether the public received adequate notice and opportunity to comment on the site.

The Office of Inspector General is an independent office within the EPA, funded by Congress to conduct audits and investigations. It hadn’t filed a report on the East Mission Flats Repository, the office’s spokesman, John Manibusan, said Wednesday.

New repositories will likely remain controversial, said Ed Moreen, a project manager in EPA’s Coeur d’Alene field office. “No one wants these in their backyard,” he said. But the polluted dirt needs to go somewhere, he added.

Moreen said the agencies do their best to make sure residents’ concerns are heard and addressed. Up to 400 truckloads of material will arrive daily at the East Mission Flats Repository. To reduce truck traffic on Canyon Road, an Interstate 90 exit will be modified to allow direct access to the repository site.

Officials also said that East Mission Flats is already home to 35 million tons of polluted soil deposited in the floodplain by the river or dredged up and put there decades earlier by mining companies.

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