Mining company agrees to $6.8 million settlement in Bunker Hill cleanup

WEDNESDAY, FEB. 16, 2011

Atlantic Richfield Co. has agreed to pay $6.8 million to the federal government, state of Idaho and the Coeur d’Alene Tribe for its decades-old role in polluting the Coeur d’Alene Basin with heavy metals.

Atlantic Richfield didn’t admit liability in the consent decree signed last month but agreed to pay the money toward Superfund cleanup and environmental restoration.

The settlement is part of the government’s ongoing efforts to recover cleanup costs for the Bunker Hill Superfund site. Between the late 1800s and the 1960s, mining companies dumped about 100 million tons of waste rock laced with heavy metals into the Coeur d’Alene River system. The pollution contaminated more than 160 miles of the river, its marshes and floodplain, and other downstream water bodies, including Lake Coeur d’Alene and the Spokane River.

The federal government has been working with the state and the Coeur d’Alene Tribe to recover cleanup costs from the responsible mining firms.

“Every dollar we get back from companies is one more dollar that the taxpayers don’t have to pay,” said Mark MacIntyre, a spokesman for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Seattle.

EPA has spent more than $230 million on Superfund cleanup in the Coeur d’Alene Basin. An estimated $2 billion worth of work remains.

Atlantic Richfield was “a relatively small contributor” to pollution in the Coeur d’Alene Basin, said Bill Ryan, an EPA project manager.

The company’s role dates to its 1977 purchase of Anaconda Mining Co., a Montana company that owned two historic mines and a mineral claim in Idaho’s Silver Valley. Atlantic Richfield is now a subsidiary of the energy company BP.

Atlantic Richfield had a larger legal responsibility for mining pollution in Montana. Three years ago, the company agreed to pay $187 million to finance a major cleanup along 120 miles of the Clark Fork River. That cleanup also stemmed from Anaconda Mining’s historic operations.

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