EPA Scales Back North Idaho Clean-Up

Feb 16, 2012

SILVER VALLEY, Idaho -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has decided to scale back plans for cleaning up Idaho’s Silver Valley. The region has been the site of a Superfund clean-up of mining waste since the 1980s. Steve Jackson has more on the story.

The EPA has decided to scale back the clean-up of Silver Valley mining waste from a project that could take upwards of 50 years at a cost of $1.3 billion to one that will take 30 years and cost of about $740 million.

The move comes as good news to many Idaho residents and lawmakers as well. Senator Mike Crapo is one who feels the original plan went too far.

“I had members of the community take me into the watersheds where the water quality met standards under the Clean Water Act, and yet there were proposals to remediate the entire watershed," Crapo says. "And it was unnecessary and the cost and the intrusion involved would not have improved water quality at all.”

The EPA’s Dan Opalski says there were a large amount of comments received from the public concerning the original clean-up plan, of which most were opposed.

Opalski: “It’s fair to say of the 6,000 comments we got, the vast majority said can you do something less ambitious.”

But Opalski wouldn’t attribute the scaling back of the process completely to the vocal opposition. He says, “I don’t want to suggest the input wasn’t a factor in fact that’s why we go out and get inputs, but ultimately we have to make decisions that are supported by the law and that’s what we think we have in front of us.”

Some of the proposed changes in the original clean up work include nixing a plan to install a plastic liner along the south fork of the Coeur d Alene river, and removing active mine sites from the clean-up.

But not all are happy with the changes. Terry Harris is with the Kootenai Environmental Alliance who says scaling back the clean-up means goals originally established under Superfund will not be met.

“What will happen is they’ll go through all their clean-up measures and realize there is more to do, so in 20 to 30 years they’ll go through another round of decision making, and additional clean up measures.”

Harris fears the end result will be that water quality goals for the Coeur d'Alene river will not be met.

The EPA’s Dan Opalski said Wednesday he believes it’s possible the project will not meet the original Superfund when this phase of the project is completed in the new 30 year time frame.

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network