BOISE – An environmental group has filed a lawsuit contending state officials are violating federal law by failing to prevent toxic discharge from the abandoned Triumph Mine in central Idaho.
The Idaho Conservation League in a lawsuit filed last month in U.S. District Court says Idaho officials are discharging arsenic and other pollutants from the former silver and lead mine into the east fork of the Big Wood River in violation of the Clean Water Act.
“The Big Wood River and its tributaries are such an important part of the entire Wood River Valley,” Justin Hayes of the Idaho Conservation League said Tuesday. “A lot of our members are very concerned about what’s happening at Triumph, and I think the state is taking it very seriously now and the pollution is going to get cleaned up.”
The valley includes the resort towns of Ketchum and Sun Valley, about 7 miles to the northwest of the mine, and to the south Hailey and Bellevue.
The lawsuit asks a federal judge to require Idaho to get a permit involving discharge from the mine. Such a permit would likely require pollution controls. The lawsuit also requests that the state be required to monitor the area. The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and Idaho Department of Lands are named in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit says polluted water flows from the mine on the outskirts of the tiny town of Triumph through pipes and into a channel connecting to the river. The group also says in the lawsuit that the polluted water “seeps underground and flows via groundwater into the East Fork on every day, or nearly every day of the year.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1993 proposed adding the mine to the national Superfund list to help with cleanup. The agency says 1 million cubic yards of black sand left over from the defunct mine constitutes a health hazard because it is laced with lead, arsenic and zinc.
But local residents concerned about a drop in property values from the stigma of a Superfund site opposed the idea. Officials in Blaine County, which relies heavily on tourism, also opposed a Superfund designation.
The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality then took over responsibility for the mine in a deal with the EPA. Asarco Mining Company filed for bankruptcy and, the lawsuit said, agreed to pay the Department of Environmental Quality $1.7 million to deal with the mine. The lawsuit says the state has failed to do that.
“Now it’s clear that a lot more needs to be done and that it’s going to cost a lot of money,” said Bryan Hurlbutt, an attorney with Advocates for the West representing the Idaho Conservation League.
The area covers about 60 acres that include a mine tunnel and tailings. The Idaho Department of Lands manages about a third of the site.
Michael McCurdy, Waste Management and Remediation Division administrator at DEQ, didn’t return a call for comment Tuesday. Sharla Arledge, spokeswoman for the Idaho Department of Lands, said the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
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