BOISE – Thanks to the federal economic stimulus bill, there could 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 Idaho Department of Environmental Quality.
The Bunker Hill funding is one of five pots of money Hardesty has identified in the federal stimulus bill that would benefit Idaho if the state DEQ applies for the funds. She’s submitted proposals to Gov. Butch Otter, and she briefed legislative budget writers on the prospect Monday.
In every case, the money meets criteria that Otter has laid out: It wouldn’t require Idaho to commit to state funding in future years; it wouldn’t require the hiring of permanent state employees; and it wouldn’t require the state to start programs.
“These are all existing state programs,” Hardesty said.
The Bunker Hill money would expedite the cleanup, Hardesty told lawmakers, by doubling the number of yards to be cleaned of mining contamination over the next two years. That would cut overall cleanup time to three to four years, from five to six years.
“This is cleanup that we need to do anyway,” Hardesty said. “It’s just sooner rather than later.”
The state would hire two or three additional temporary employees in Kellogg and an additional contractor. The contractors would hire the additional seasonal workers.
“From my perspective this would be a part of the stimulus package that meets … the goals that most of us have in mind, in terms of one-time money,” said State Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint. “… There are very few strings attached that don’t already exist.”
The state is hiring local contractors to do the cleanup, Hardesty said. The state does have to match 10 percent of the federal funding, but that money was already set aside.
Other areas where Hardesty said DEQ programs could 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 30 sites. There are 130 sites on the waiting list for cleanup.
•$1.7 million is available to retrofit school buses and other heavy vehicles with up-to-date emission controls. In addition, the state could apply for up to $2 million in competitive grants to make the same retrofits to vehicles in state fleets. 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 the DEQ 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 – threatened by state budget cuts – could qualify for the federal money, Hardesty said, as could other projects now facing the budget ax.
If the governor approves Idaho accepting the money, state lawmakers could include it when they set the DEQ’s budget for next year.