COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho (CN) – The United States and the Coeur d’Alene Indian tribe of northern Idaho say seven mining companies should have to pay the 30-year, $360 million estimated cost associated with the cleanup of over 100 years of mining activity in the Coeur d’Alene basin.
The government says it filed the federal complaint with the tribe partly on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies.
They claims that Alice Consolidated Mines and six other companies are liable for past operations that continue to release lead, cadmium, zinc and other toxic metals into ground and water resources.
“Over more than a hundred years, the mining and associated milling and smelting operations within the Coeur d’Alene Basin have resulted in massive releases of hazardous substances into the environment,” the suit stated. “Since the late 1800s, numerous mining and milling operations have released an estimated 100 million tons of mining wastes into the river system. Over time, these wastes have been distributed over more than 160 miles of the Coeur d’Alene and Spokane Rivers, lakes and floodplains.”
Hazardous waste has also “caused injury” to migratory species and resources such as fish, birds, biota and water, as well as federal and tribal land, according to the 13-page complaint.
The mining site is a 21-square mile area located in Shoshone County and includes the communities of Kellogg, Smelterville, Wardner and Pinehurst.
In 1983 the Bunker Hill Mining and Metallurgical Complex was listed as a Superfund site on the EPA’s National Priorities List. The list consists of hazardous waste sites in the U.S. eligible for long-term remedial action financed under the federal Superfund program.
The Bunker Hill site consists of three operable units, two of which sit in a 21 square-mile area of historic smelting operations known as “The Box.”
Cleanup of those units began in 1991 and is ongoing. In 1998 the EPA initiated a Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study for the third operable unit. In September 2002, it issued a decision nthat outlines the first phase of “remedy” for that unit. The EPA spent more than $4 million to address contamination at the Constitution and Golconda Mine sites alone.
Under the Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), the United States and Coeur d’Alene tribe say they are entitled to the recovery of “costs incurred or to be incurred in connection with mining-related contamination in Operable Unit 3 of the Bunker Hill Mining and Metallurgical Complex Superfund Site in northern Idaho and for damage for injury to, destruction of, or loss of natural resources resulting from the release of hazardous substances in connection with the Coeur d’Alene Basin Site.”
In addition to Alice Consolidated Mines, the complaint names Hypotheek Mining and Milling, Callahan Consolidated Mines, Constitution Mining, Golconda Mining, Highland-Surprise Mining and Nevada-Stewart Mining as defendants.
The complaint says each defendant is “liable to the United States and the Tribe for damages for injury to natural resources resulting from the discharges or releases of hazardous substances in operable unit 3 of the Bunker Hill Mining and Metallurgical Complex Superfund Site, including the cost for assessing such damages.”
The government is represented by Justice Department environmental lawyer Erika Zimmerman in Seattle. The tribe is represented by local attorney Howard Funke.