BOISE – Cleanup of contaminated residential yards and other properties in the Coeur d’Alene Basin is so far ahead of schedule that Idaho lawmakers on Thursday authorized speeding up spending to do even more work this year.
“We’ve been very, very pleased with what the contractors in North Idaho were doing,” said state Department of Environmental Quality Director Toni Hardesty.
The plan for this year was to replace contaminated topsoil and cap pollutants from old mining waste at 500 Silver Valley properties. That’s already done. Now, DEQ will move ahead with 200 more between now and June 30.
State Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, who won unanimous support in the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee to approve spending $8.2 million more in federal funds this year on the project, said, “I think with the downturn in the economy we have more contractors available and more workers the contractors can hire, and those contractors maybe don’t have other jobs. Unemployment is still very high in Shoshone County – last I heard it was close to 20 percent – so having jobs available like this is great.”
The stepped-up spending includes $3.2 million in federal economic stimulus funds and $5 million in EPA remediation funds. Without the Legislature’s action, that money couldn’t have been tapped until next year.
The expenditure still requires formal votes in the House and Senate, but the joint budget committee’s unanimous approval of the supplemental appropriation virtually guarantees its passage.
Also on Thursday, three other North Idaho supplemental appropriations won the joint budget committee’s approval; none involved state general tax funds. The three:
•$62,400 in federal stimulus grant funds from the U.S. Forest Service to clean up mine tailings at the 100-year-old Idora Mill site four miles north of Wallace, which hasn’t been used in decades. Contaminants wash from the tailings there into Beaver Creek; there are homes a mile and a half downstream.
•A fund shift to spend $125,000 from the dedicated Water Pollution Control Account on the institutional controls program for Superfund cleanup in Kellogg, Wardner, Smelterville and Pinehurst; that previously had been funded by proceeds from a legal settlement with mining companies.
•Lawmakers authorized the spending of $50,000 from Avista Corp. as part of its Post Falls dam relicensing settlement, to fund water quality monitoring in Spokane River and Lake Coeur d’Alene.
Hardesty said the monitoring will coordinate with the state’s management plan for Lake Coeur d’Alene, and may allow DEQ to continue some monitoring efforts that budget cuts otherwise would have ended.