BOISE - The Coeur d’Alene Lake Management Plan will be funded one way or another, Idaho state lawmakers declared Wednesday.
The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee voted unanimously in favor of a budget for the state Department of Environmental Quality for next year that includes an either-or: Either the state will spend $332,500 from its water pollution control account to start implementing the lake plan, or a federal grant will cover the full amount.
“The Coeur d’Alene Lake Management Plan is a critical piece of work,” said Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint.
Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, said a grant is being pursued through the Panhandle Area Council from the U.S. Economic Development Administration. Henderson added a clause to the DEQ budget bill backing the push for the grant, and stating, “The water quality of Lake Coeur d’Alene is crucial to the economy of the state of Idaho.”
Henderson said if the grant comes through, it’d remove the need to use the water pollution fund.
The Coeur d’Alene Tribe has pledged to match the state’s spending on the management plan, which is required to avoid federal Superfund action to clean up old mine wastes in the lake. The management plan is aimed instead at lowering nutrient loading in the lake to keep the mine wastes safely encapsulated deep in the sediments of the lake bottom.
The state’s funding commitment includes three workers, monitoring, supplies, training, and a $56,300 community outreach program. The budget bill still must pass both houses and receive the governor’s signature to become law, but budget bills rarely are changed after they clear the joint committee.
The DEQ budget set Wednesday also includes covering the anticipated cost of continuing water qualify monitoring in the Clark Fork River with federal stimulus funds that DEQ will be receiving for related work.
“I think given the circumstances that we’re in, that we did what we needed to do to make sure we don’t go into Superfund, we make sure our water quality issues are addressed and we use the stimulus money appropriately,” Keough said.
Overall, the budget for DEQ next year would see a 20.4 percent drop in state general funds, but a 12.4 percent boost in total funding, thanks to the federal stimulus.
The joint budget committee also unanimously endorsed the DEQ’s plans to use millions in stimulus funds to speed up the Bunker Hill cleanup, which will add 70 additional seasonal jobs in the Silver Valley for the next two years; to step up water quality management efforts; and to boost the state’s clean water and drinking water revolving loan funds by $38.7 million. That’s not counting an additional $15 million Gov. Butch Otter wants to put into those loan funds from the $45 million slice of the stimulus over which he has discretion.
The DEQ budget decisions came on a day when tight budgets also were set for the state Parks and Recreation Department, which will see an 18.1 percent cut in total funding, and for statewide substance abuse treatment, which will be trimmed back by $2.1 million.
Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, and Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, led a move to try to raid Otter’s $45 million in discretionary stimulus funds to avoid the cut in substance abuse treatment, but they only attracted one other vote on the 20-member committee, from Sen. Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello.
LeFavour said lawmakers are counting on the state’s prison population staying constant next year to make its budgets work, and she questioned how that could happen if the state cuts substance abuse treatment. But other legislative budget writers were reluctant to take on the governor over a $2.1 million slice of the stimulus money.