Latest from The Spokesman-Review
A new report from the U.S. Geological Survey shows that the cleanup of mining contamination in the Coeur d’Alene Basin has resulted in improved water quality, with concentrations of cadmium, lead and zinc significantly reduced since cleanup activities started in the 1990s, S-R reporter Becky Kramer reports. Overall, the report is “good news for the people of the basin,” said Rick Albright, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund cleanup director in Seattle. “We still have a long way to go in our cleanup efforts, but it’s nice to have scientific confirmation that we’ve made solid, measurable progress in reducing metals loads and improving area water quality.” You can read our full story here at spokesman.com.
Idaho’s state endowment fund has been showing strong returns, so state officials had no qualms this week about designating the endowment fund’s board to also oversee a new, $50 million permanent endowment, this one to permanently cover all costs of operating a water treatment plant to help clean up mining contamination in the Silver Valley.
The $50 million comes from Hecla Mining Corp. as part of a settlement of a giant Superfund lawsuit covering multiple companies and a wide swath of the Coeur d’Alene Basin where a century of mining spread contaminants harmful to people, fish, birds and more. A 2011 consent decree covering Hecla’s portion of the settlement required the company to deposit $66 million with the federal court; an amendment to that decree is expected by the end of this month to release the funds for cleanup activities.
Under the plan, the federal Environmental Protection Agency will use $15 million of the funds to expand an existing water treatment plant in Kellogg and operate the plant for the next five to 10 years, until those funds are spent. The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality will then take over, and it’s responsible for using the investment earnings from the remaining $50 million to operate the plant in perpetuity.
Idaho’s five top state elected officials, sitting this week as the state Board of Land Commissioners, approved setting up the new endowment and having the Endowment Fund Investment Board oversee its investment. That’s the group that now oversees the investment of the state’s $1.7 billion permanent endowment, whose earnings largely benefit the state’s schools.
So far this year, Idaho’s endowment fund has gained 17.5 percent from investment earnings. “We’re looking to come in with a strong result for the fiscal year which ends June 30,” investment manager Larry Johnson told the Land Board. The endowment’s earnings have been strong enough that it’s built up five years of reserves, so for the first time in several years, the annual distribution to Idaho’s public schools next year is expected to rise slightly, from $31.3 million to $31.5 million. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
The proposed $1.3 billion Superfund cleanup of a century of mining contamination in North Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene Basin is being scaled back significantly, Idaho lawmakers were told Tuesday. Instead of taking up to 100 years and costing $1.3 billion, the cleanup would last more like 30 years and cost about $736 million, Idaho Department of Environmental Quality Director Toni Hardesty told the House Environment Committee. The Environmental Protection Agency will be unveiling the proposed changes at a Coeur d’Alene Basin Commission meeting Wednesday in Wallace. “We were hopeful that they would scale that back significantly,” Hardesty said. “It’s consistent with the comments that the state submitted, so we’re pleased”/Betsy Z. Russell, Eye On Boise. More here. (Betsy Russell photo: Idaho Rep. Shannon McMillan, right, and her son James, left, listen to committee debate on their resolution ordering the EPA to leave the Coeur d’Alene Basin)
Question: Do you support the move to significantly scale back Coeur d'Alene Basin cleanup?
The U.S. Attorney's office for Idaho posted its biggest collection ever today, when Hecla Mining Co. paid $77.5 million as part of a settlement involving the Bunker Hill Superfund site in North Idaho. The settlement was announced by the U.S. Department of Justice in June; in it, Hecla agreed to pay $263.4 million plus interest to the United States, the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, and the state of Idaho. The settlement is to pay for cleanup of mining contamination in the Coeur d'Alene Basin.
Payments already have been made to the tribe and the state; Hecla is scheduled to pay another $43.3 million to the federal government by August of 2014. “This historic recovery to resolve one of the largest cases ever filed under the Superfund statute compensates the United States for more than three decades of clean-up efforts,” said U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson, “and establishes a strong basis for future cooperation between Hecla Mining Company, the tribe, the state, and the federal government.”
We thought the Yellowstone River oil spill this past summer was a little close for comfort. Well, guess what. We got word late yesterday afternoon, with some additional information trickling in to us today that a 10-inch Conoco-Phillips pipeline, pumping unleaded gasoline from Billings to Spokane is suffering a “slow drop in pressure” somewhere between Pritchard and Cataldo. The current focus of attention is in the Enaville to Cataldo stretch. From an email from Sandy Von Behren in Kootenai County’s Department of Emergency Management: “Yellowstone Pipeline (Conoco/Phillips) identified a small reduction in pressure in their 10” high pressure petroleum pipeline between Prichard and Cataldo this past Saturday. Yellowstone reps have walked the entire line between Prichard and Cataldo and have not located any indication of the leak on the surface”/Terry Harris, Kootenai Environmental Alliance. More here. (Jesse Tinsley SR file photo: A great blue heron wolfs down a fish in the Medimont area of the chain lakes in the Coeur d’Alene River basin)
Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho (AP) — Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter has sent a letter criticizing the federal government’s proposal for the next phase of cleanup in Idaho’s Silver Valley region. Otter sent a letter Monday to the Environmental Protection Agency saying he cannot support the plan unless it ensures cleanup work will not impede existing or future mining in the region. In the letter, reported by the Coeur d’Alene Press, Otter also says the cleanup cannot last forever and urged the EPA to set reasonable and achievable goals. The EPA is taking public comments on its proposal to expand the cleanup of historic mining wastes in the upper Coeur d’Alene River basin. The EPA Director of Environmental Cleanup Dan Opalski says they will consider Otter’s comments and others submitted in the process.