(CN) – An Idaho mining company will pay more than a quarter of a billion dollars to resolve claims that it damaged the environment of the state’s Coeur d’Alene River Basin region with millions of tons of waste deposit.
The U.S. government said Monday that its settlement with Hecla Mining is one of the largest in history, and resolves a lawsuit originally brought by the Coeur d’Alene Tribe 20 years ago.
Hecla’s mining waste caused major damages to the water, fish and birds in the South Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River and its tributaries, according to the lawsuit, which the U.S. government joined in 1996.
Ultimately the case led to a 78-day trial regarding the company’s liability in 2001. The other major defendant in the lawsuit, the American Smelting and Refining Company, reached a settlement with the government in 2008.
Hecla agreed to a process to coordinate the company’s future mining and cleanup activities in the Couer d’Alene basin region in addition to paying $263.4 million to the government, the state of Idaho and the Coeur d’Alene Tribe.
“Twenty years ago tribal leaders were convinced that not enough was being done to clean up the Coeur d’Alene Basin following a century of mining activity in the Silver Valley,” Coeur d’Alene Tribe Chief J. Allan said in a statement. “Against all odds, the tribe made an unpopular decision to bring one of the largest superfund lawsuits in our nation’s history.”
“The tribe stands together with the United States, the state of Idaho and Hecla to restore our natural resources while we continue to provide economic prosperity to the region,” he added.
The Bunker Hill site has been named as a federal Superfund site since 1983. Under Environmental Protection Agency regulations, Superfund sites are given federal priority for cleanup efforts in which industry has severely damaged the surrounding environment.
Cleanup activities at Bunker Hill have resulted in a 55 percent reduction of blood-level levels in children who live in the area, and nearly 2 million cubic yards of contaminated soil have been removed, according to the EPA’s website.