Tailings were removed from the Smelterville Flats segment of the South Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River by diverting the river for a short time.

Northwest Tribes and EPA Agree on Cleanup Plan for Upper Coeur d’Alene River Basin


It has taken more than 30 years, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released the final version of a $635 million plan to clean up one of the nation's biggest Superfund sites, in the Upper Coeur d’Alene River Basin.

The plan to clean up the Bunker Hill Mining and Metallurgical Complex Superfund Site was agreed to by the State of Idaho and the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, the EPA said in a statement.

“We listened closely to all perspectives about how to provide the greatest environmental and human health improvement while balancing the duration and costs,” said Dan Opalski, director of the EPA's Seattle Superfund office, in the statement. “This decision sets forth an ambitious, yet thoughtful and methodical approach to reducing risks from metals, making the Coeur d’Alene Basin an even safer, healthier place to live, work and play.”

Besides the tribe's and the state's endorsements, the federal agency said letters of support were received from Washington State, the Spokane Tribe, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). The EPA also worked with the Basin Environmental Improvement Project Commission (Basin Commission) to fine-tune the plan, the statement said.

The cleanup will not only clean up the pollution left by 100-plus years of mining but also will create hundreds of jobs in the process, Dan Opalski, EPA Region 10 Superfund director, told The Spokesman-Review.

The site was designated in 1983, according to EPA background information. Mining activity dating back to the late 1880s in the Upper Coeur d'Alene Basin dumped about 100 million tons of mine waste into the river system. "Many Basin communities were built on mine wastes," the EPA's backgrounder says. "Until as late as 1968, tailings were deposited directly into the river. Over time, these wastes have spread throughout more than 160 miles of the Coeur d'Alene and Spokane Rivers, lakes, and floodplains."

In June the Hecla Mining Company agreed to pay $263.4 million plus interest to the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, the state of Idaho and the U.S. government to help in site remediation. The initial cleanup plan put forth in 2010 said it would cost $1.3 billion and take more than 50 years, the Associated Press reported.

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gwyd23's picture
Submitted by gwyd23 on
Great news! That's awesomely beautiful country up there. I worked on Superfund cleanups at the state level; nice to see that EPA is finally working on this one.