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Stimulus promises jobs for Silver Valley

BOISE - Thanks to the federal economic stimulus bill, there’ll be 70 new seasonal jobs in North Idaho’s Silver Valley this summer and next as part of the Bunker Hill cleanup.

“It’s doubling the effort for two years,” said Toni Hardesty, director of the state Department of Environmental Quality.

The Bunker Hill cleanup funding is one of five pots of money Hardesty has identified in the stimulus bill that will benefit Idaho if the state DEQ applies for funds. She’s submitted proposals to Gov. Butch Otter, and briefed legislative budget writers on the prospect this morning.

In every case, the money meets criteria that Otter’s laid out: It wouldn’t require Idaho to commit to state funding in future years; it wouldn’t require the hiring on of full-time Idaho state employees; and it wouldn’t require the state to start new programs.

“These are all existing state programs,” Hardesty said.

The Bunker Hill money would “expedite the cleanup,” Hardesty told lawmakers, by allowing twice as many yards to be cleaned of mining contamination as planned for the next two years. That’ll cut the overall cleanup time from five to six year, to three to four years.

“This is cleanup that we need to do anyway,” Hardesty said. “It’s just sooner rather than later.”

The state would hire on two to three additional limited-service employees in Kellogg - those are temporary state workers whose job ends when their projects end - and an additional contractor. The contractors would hire the additional seasonal workers.

Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, said, “From my perspective this would be a part of the stimulus package that meets most of the goals that most of us have in mind, in terms of one-time money. … There are very few strings attached that don’t already exist.”

Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, said, “It results in people working,” and Keough added, “It puts people to work doing things that need to be done.”

Hardesty said for the Bunker Hill cleanup, the state is hiring local contractors to do the work. The state does have to match 10 percent of the federal funding, but that money already is set aside.

Here are the other four areas where Hardesty said Idaho DEQ programs can benefit from stimulus funds:

* The state could receive $1.3 million to clean up sites contaminated by leaking underground storage tanks. Idaho would have four years to spend the extra money, which would cover an additional 30 sites. There are already 130 eligible sites on the waiting list for cleanup.

* Another $1.7 million is available to retrofit school buses and other heavy vehicles with up-to-date emission controls to reduce their diesel emissions. In addition, the state could apply for up to $2 million in competitive grants to make the same retrofits to vehicles in state fleets. There’s no state match required, and the state would have up to two years to do the work.

* Idaho stands to receive a $38.7 million boost to its revolving fund for loans to local governments for drinking water and clean water improvements. “It’s a program in which we’ve already had greater need than money,” Hardesty said, noting that DEQ already has $761 million worth of requests.

* The state could get $194,000 in additional funding for water quality management. Water quality monitoring in the Clark Fork River whose continuance is now threatened by state budget cuts could qualify for the federal money, Hardesty said, as could other projects now facing the budget ax.

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