One of the Silver Valley’s oldest family-run companies has reached a $200,000 settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over Superfund cleanup of historic mine waste.
Zanetti Brothers Inc. will pay the government $150,000 and provide $50,000 worth of gravel, soil or other clean fill for environmental remediation efforts.
Under Superfund law, the U.S. government works to recover cleanup costs from responsible parties, said Bill Ryan, an EPA project manager. It’s a complicated task in Idaho’s Silver Valley, where a surge of prospectors filed claims after gold was discovered in the Coeur d’Alene Mountains. Over the past century, the area has produced silver, lead, zinc and other heavy metals. Many of the companies that profited from the mineral strikes no longer exist, Ryan said.
Zanetti Brothers is one of the few companies still in operation. Pete Zanetti, a prospector and Italian immigrant, arrived in the Silver Valley in the late 1800s. His sons started Zanetti Brothers with “a couple of mules and an ore car,” said Herb Zanetti Jr., the company’s current president.
The brothers were placer miners, scouring creek bottoms for gold nuggets that washed downstream. They also operated mills that processed lead-silver ore and transported ore and mine tailings – activities that released heavy metals into the environment, according to a consent decree signed by the EPA and the company.
Their methods were legal at the time, said Zanetti: “There weren’t a lot of rules and regulations.” He said he spent two years in litigation with the EPA and “many sleepless nights” before signing the consent decree.
In addition to the payments, the company agreed to grant the EPA an easement across some of its property in Shoshone County.
Roughly $2 billion worth of heavy metals cleanup work remains in the Coeur d’Alene Basin, according to EPA officials.
In late 2009, longtime mine operator Asarco Inc. agreed through a court settlement to spend nearly $600 million on environmental restoration in the basin. Government officials are in talks with Hecla Mining Co. over its share of the cleanup effort.
In addition to the large companies, recovery of cleanup costs has targeted 17 smaller firms, including Zanetti Brothers, said the EPA’s Ryan. Six of the companies have signed consent decrees.
Zanetti Brothers employs about a dozen people year-round, adding workers during the construction season.
Over the years, the company has expanded its contract work in environmental remediation, where it counts both the EPA and mining companies among its clients, Zanetti said.