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Tue., April 29, 2014, midnight

Editorial: Doesn’t hurt to give tribe more time on Midnite Mine

Members of the Spokane Tribe say they want more time to evaluate the proposed cleanup plan for the Midnite Mine, a project designed to seal its debris and radiation away for generations.

With the long view they take of preserving the land for their children’s children’s children, a deep breath before the bulldozers roll is understandable. The mine, like so many other enterprises born of the atomic age, was once a blessing that provided good jobs. The jobs are long gone, but the failing health of some who worked there, and the environmental legacy of fouled waters and soil, haunts the tribe a generation after the Midnite closed.

Newmont Mining Co., owner of the former mine operator, will assume most of the $193 million cleanup cost. A court ordered the cleanup, but shareholders were also pushing the company to accept more responsibility for the environmental impacts of its operations.

Those who remember Gulf Resources and its scheming executives, who avoided paying for the mess they left behind in the Silver Valley, know not all companies will do the right thing.

But even a willing partner may not produce a perfect plan. Removing topsoil from an 80-acre tract on one part of the reservation to bury the fill and membrane that will cover the old mining pits, for example, will redistribute some of the environmental scarring, at least until restoration erases the memory of the land as it was.

There’s an extra degree of difficulty to that when the land and its people have been interconnected for so many generations.

But the tribe is not new to resource management. Working cooperatively with Newmont should enable the Spokanes to get the details right over the seven years or so it will take to complete the project.

Goodwill on both sides will go a long way toward assuring the Midnite is eased from the landscape, if not the tribe’s consciousness.

Contrast that with the poisoned relationship between the U.S. Department of Energy and state of Washington, who are on the verge of more litigation over the Hanford Nuclear Reservation and the ever-twisting tale of its remediation.

With new signs that tanks storing waste at Hanford are failing, the state is again pushing for DOE compliance with a court settlement that was supposed to get that project much closer to a conclusion.

Each side is rejecting the other’s plan for moving forward, which could shortly lead to another visit to a federal courtroom. Last week, Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson invoked a dispute resolution clause in a 2010 agreement because the state and DOE have rejected each other’s plans for getting the Hanford work back on track.

Agreements are all very well, but it’s the subsequent execution and the cooperation that will make or break the Newmont/Spokane Tribe relationship over the next decade. With a deal so close, it’s tempting to push it over the finish line.

It may not be possible for the Spokane Tribal Business Council to bring every member to accept the pending agreement, but there will be a lot more healing if those hesitating at the last get a full hearing.

The Spokesman-Review Editorial Board

Members of The Spokesman-Review editorial board help to determine The Spokesman-Review's position on issues of interest to the Inland Northwest. Board members are:

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