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Lawmakers back wider basin cleanup

Resolution to EPA calls for input on extra cost to Idaho

BOISE – Idaho lawmakers say that if the Environmental Protection Agency dramatically expands cleanup efforts in the Coeur d’Alene Basin, the state might be supportive – but it’s not ready to commit any more money.

“While we agree that it’s a good thing to have our environment clean, we don’t want to commit money without legislative review,” state Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, told the Legislature’s joint budget committee Thursday.

The committee voted unanimously to support a resolution Broadsword offered, sending that message to the EPA. The resolution was sent directly to the full Senate, and speedy passage is expected.

Officials with both the EPA and the state Department of Environmental Quality said the resolution is entirely appropriate.

“We’ve been working very closely with the state for many years on this very complex cleanup project,” said Angela Chung, Bunker Hill Superfund project team leader for the EPA in Seattle. “So we fully understand where the state is coming from.”

The EPA is in the process of developing an amended record of decision for the Coeur d’Alene Basin cleanup, which it expects to finalize by fall. The Superfund cleanup started nearly two decades ago with the 21-square-mile area surrounding the Bunker Hill smelter; in 2002 an interim record of decision expanded that cleanup outside the so-called Bunker Hill “box” to take in mining contamination throughout the basin.

Since then, cleanup efforts largely have focused on public health concerns, including replacing soil in contaminated residential yards. The expanded plan will add things like water quality improvements, aimed at everything from Canyon Creek to the groundwater under the Superfund site’s central impoundment area; “remedy protection,” or efforts to make sure cleanup work already accomplished won’t be wiped away by future floods or other circumstances; and cleanup of various mine and mill sites around the area that still pose a risk from contamination.

Broadsword noted that Superfund cleanups require a 10 percent match from state funds – so she doesn’t want the state committed in advance to a big increase. Idaho currently is paying about $1.5 million a year for its state match for the cleanup effort.

Chung said the EPA has nearly $500 million from a settlement with Asarco Inc., one of the mining companies identified as a potentially responsible party at the site, and those funds can be spent without any state matching requirement.

“We’re still working, trying to get additional settlement with additional parties out there that could offset the state portion,” Chung said.

State Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, said, “In fact, the current cleanup work that’s being done there is working – that’s a matter of technical record.” Henderson said any expansion of work that’s already been successful “calls for further study.”

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