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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion

Harwood making water woes worse

The Spokesman-Review

Apparently, Idaho state Rep. Dick Harwood isn’t as concerned as North Idaho tourism leaders and business owners about Lake Coeur d’Alene’s designation as part of a Superfund site. At a state budget committee hearing this week, he said he wouldn’t vote to fund an additional state environmental worker who could help craft a lake management plan to get the lake de-listed.

“I’ve never been in favor of doing the lake ‘til we get the rest of it cleaned up,” Harwood, R-St. Maries, said at the Joint Finance and Appropriation Committee meeting. “We need to get to the point source first.”

Actually, the budget committee needs to fund the position first.

Federal Environmental Protection Agency officials couldn’t be clearer in telling local civic leaders and elected officials how to remove the stigma of Superfund from the lake. Idaho must provide funding for a staffer at the state Department of Environmental Quality to work with the Coeur d’Alene Indian Tribe to draft a new management plan – an $85,000 budget item.

No IDEQ staffer. No plan. No de-listing.

Harwood should embrace that condition rather than try to shift focus upstream. The Legislature has dodged this issue for two years. It’s past time to fund the position and move forward to protect and de-list the lake.

Harwood and other elected officials should be grateful that the EPA heeded the outcry of community leaders throughout the 3,700-square-mile Superfund site that stretches from the Idaho-Montana state line to the mouth of the Spokane River. After hearing from communities and individuals that feared the effect of the Superfund designation on the lake, the EPA compromised by offering the de-listing proposal. A management plan is a small price to pay to de-list Lake Coeur d’Alene, a popular tourism and recreation wonderland that washes over an estimated 77 million tons of mining waste on the bottom.

If Lake Coeur d’Alene can be managed to limit disturbance of mining wastes on the bottom and the introduction of more toxic metals from mining activity upstream, the whole region will benefit.

A good argument can be made that the designation of an expanded Superfund site that included the lake almost three years ago has done little to chase away investors and property buyers. Valuations on lake properties are soaring. And the frontage lots are being snapped up. But the sun-drenched smiles on the lake’s surface don’t exorcise the hazard that lurks below.

In contrast to Harwood’s reaction, Sen. Shawn Keough, a Sandpoint Republican and vice chairwoman of the budget committee, said of the IDEQ budget proposal: “I can’t speak for the committee as a whole, but it would certainly seem as though for the north, it’s a priority.”

Water is a huge issue in the Idaho Legislature this year. Efforts are under way to resolve a dispute that could mean a $100 million buyout of southern Idaho water rights. One of the great concerns during the 2004 fall campaigns was that North Idaho legislators wouldn’t fight for important water issues in North Idaho. Harwood has put a face to those fears.

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