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Hecla agrees to $600,000 fine for pollution

Hecla Mining Co. has agreed to pay $600,000 for releasing heavy metals and other pollution into the South Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River over a five-year period. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency documented nearly 500 violations of the company’s federal discharge permit at the Lucky Friday Mine in Mullan, Idaho, between 2009 and 2014. One of the mine’s tailings ponds was seeping metal-laden water that flowed into a tributary of the South Fork, according to EPA. Another violation resulted from storm water runoff problems during the construction of a new tailings pond. Sediment in the storm water destroyed the water intake at the Hale Fish Hatchery downstream in Mullan, which produces rainbow trout for stocking in local streams. No fish were at the hatchery when the violation occurred, said Mark MacIntyre, an EPA spokesman. Some of the violations involved failing to properly report problems to EPA. “We don’t agree with all the allegations made by EPA, but we do agree it’s in the best interest to settle and move on,” said Luke Russell, Hecla’s vice president of external affairs. “We take environmental responsibilities seriously.” Some of the 2009 violations were related to initial operations at a new, wastewater treatment plant, Russell said. The plant is designed to remove higher levels of lead and zinc than the previous plant. Hecla also disputes some of EPA’s allegations of storm water violations, saying the discharges were covered by the company’s storm water permit, Russell said. The South Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River has been heavily affected by heavy metals pollution from more than a century of mining in Idaho’s Silver Valley. “The last thing rivers like the South Fork Coeur d’Alene need are unpermitted discharges and permit violations,” said Ed Kowalski, EPA’s director of compliance and enforcement in Seattle, said in a statement. The Lucky Friday Mine is the single largest contributor of heavy metals to the South Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River upstream of Mullan. The mine’s federal permit is designed to help protect and restore the aquatic health of the South Fork, Kowalski said.
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