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News >  Idaho

DEQ director calls lake plan ‘difficult issue’

Betsy Z. Russell Staff writer

BOISE – Idaho lawmakers are worried that the state still lacks the cooperative lake management plan for Lake Coeur d’Alene that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said would prevent it from declaring the lake a Superfund site.

State Department of Environmental Quality Director Toni Hardesty said it’s been a “difficult issue” to negotiate among the state, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, locals and the EPA, but the plan is coming along with a mediator’s help. Though she made no new provision for the plan in her budget request for next year presented to lawmakers Friday, Hardesty said the plan is likely to be completed within the next year, and she’ll request state funding to carry out its provisions when lawmakers return in 2009.

It matters because how the lake is managed – including activities that could add nutrients to the lake – affects whether heavy metals from past mining contamination stay encased in the sediments of the lake bottom or are released into the water.

“It’s very important,” said state Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, who said he’s heard that the plan could need a half-million dollars in state funding to proceed. Added Henderson, “We need to get it into place so that we can implement what is agreed to. Otherwise, we’re just in a suspended controversy about EPA’s threat of enlarging a Superfund site. We need to get to a decision so we can move forward.”

Hardesty said the agreement to develop a negotiated lake management plan to stave off Superfund designation for the lake predated her four years’ tenure as DEQ director.

“There have been earlier versions of lake management plans, and then there have been unsuccessful attempts to try to get an updated joint lake management plan,” Hardesty said. “This attempt, I believe, will be successful.”

A year ago, she said, the state, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and the EPA entered into an agreement to bring in an EPA-approved mediator, and that’s helping the plan along.

The EPA has agreed that with appropriate management, a Superfund designation of areas around the lake because of mining contamination need not take in the lake itself.

Hardesty said the EPA’s threat to designate the lake as a Superfund site still stands, but the federal agency has agreed that “if a joint lake management plan could be developed by the tribe and state and approved by EPA that would serve to protect the lake, there then would be no need for Superfund action on the lake.”

“They’ve been participating with us and I think they see that there is significant progress being made. … I think we’re moving in the right direction.”

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