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Idaho’s Silver Valley may have long-term Superfund label

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to scale back cleanup work in the Silver Valley comes with a catch: At the end of 30 years, the upper Coeur d’Alene River Basin could still be a Superfund site.

EPA officials trimmed the original $1.3 billion plan to clean up mining pollution in the basin after it drew criticism from Idaho’s congressional delegation and local residents both for its cost and timeframe of 50 to 90 years. Instead, EPA is proposing a $740 million plan which would be completed in three decades.

“What I asked of my technical folks was to give me a strategy that they felt was technically defenseable and one that would move us in the right direction,” said Dan Opalski, EPA’s director of environmental cleanup for Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska. The new plan prioritizes the most important work for public health and environmental remediation, he said.

But Opalski said he couldn’t guarantee that the reduced scope of work would be sufficient to lift the Superfund designation from the upper basin.

“I don’t want to say there isn’t a chance this suite of actions — even scaled back — won’t get us there,” he said. “We could be pleasantly surprised…but we don’t want to set expectations too high.”

EPA officials will conduct ongoing monitoring to evaluate the effect of the cleanup work.

This story is developing and will be updated.

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