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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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 Bryan Helmich from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, left, talks with Jack Buell at the new boat launch on Wednesday.   Bryan Helmich from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, left, talks with Jack Buell at the new boat launch on Wednesday.  
 (Tom Davenport/Tom Davenport/ / The Spokesman-Review)
Bryan Helmich from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, left, talks with Jack Buell at the new boat launch on Wednesday. Bryan Helmich from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, left, talks with Jack Buell at the new boat launch on Wednesday. (Tom Davenport/Tom Davenport/ / The Spokesman-Review)

Taking a small but concrete step in a 30-year, $359 million project to scrub mine wastes from the Coeur d’Alene Basin, state and federal officials are celebrating the nearly-finished cleanup of the East of Rose Lake boat launch on the Coeur d’Alene River.

The recreational site adjacent to State Highway 3 is about three miles south of the Rose Lake exit off Interstate 90 east of Coeur d’Alene. It was heavily contaminated with lead, zinc and other heavy metals washed downstream during a century of mining in Idaho’s Silver Valley.

The $380,000 project makes the state-owned boat launch safe by protecting adults and children from exposure to high levels of heavy metals, said Anne Dailey, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency scientist and project manager.

The site is the only low-water boat launch from Harrison to Cataldo, said Bryan Helmich, habitat manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

“This gives recreationists a good place to access the river, and it’s now a clean and safe environment,” Helmich said.

As part of a five-year, $100 million effort to reduce human exposures to heavy metals throughout the Coeur d’Alene Basin, the EPA and Idaho officials are focusing their efforts on yard cleanups and on public recreational areas where lead in soil exceeds 700 parts per million and where arsenic is over 100 parts per million.

The agencies held a public meeting last May to get input on how to address contamination at the boat launch, largely owned by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. About one-third of the site to the east is owned by the U.S. Forest Service.

The boat launch cleanup was a cooperative effort between the agencies. Most of the money came from the EPA’s Superfund cleanup account, Dailey said.

After months of site selection and design work, construction started last December when the river’s level was low. The boat launch’s dusty dirt parking lot was capped with asphalt and a low-water access boat launch was built. The parking lot was graded to direct most runoff away from the river.

This spring, 4,000 willow cuttings were planted close together in clean soil to help stabilize the riverbank near the boat launch and reduce human exposure to heavy metals in the sediments. In addition, a fence was built around a historic pioneer schoolhouse on the property.

The rehabilitation project was approved by the Basin Environmental Impact Project Commission, a group of Idaho elected officials formed to oversee the big Superfund cleanup from Wallace to the lower Basin. In a related project, a picnic area at the Black Rock trailhead connecting to the popular Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes has also been built as a “clean oasis.” The picnic area will be used by people bicycling and walking on the 72-mile recreational trail that stretches from Mullan to Plummer. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed the East of Rose Lake boat launch design and managed the project.

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