Hecla Mining Co., the largest mining company in Idaho’s Silver Valley, will pay $263.4 million plus interest to settle one of the nation’s largest Superfund lawsuits. This was one of the top ten such settlements in history, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The U.S. Department of Justice said that the company in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, will pay the money to the United States, the state of Idaho and Coeur d’Alene tribal governments for releasing mining wastes into the environment during decades of silver production.
Hecla was the last major Defendant remaining in a huge Superfund lawsuit filed in federal court in Boise, Idaho, in 1991. Seventy-five percent of the money will go to the EPA for cleanup work. The remaining 25% will go to federal, state and tribal entities to help repair the environment and restore wildlife in the valley, the EPA said. Hecla is the nation’s largest silver producer, operating the Lucky Friday Mine in the Silver Valley and a mine in Mexico.
The lawsuit was originally brought in 1991 against Hecla and other mining companies in the Silver Valley by the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, seeking penalties for damage to water, fish and birds caused by millions of tons of mining wastes that were released for decades into the South Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River and its tributaries.
The EPA has been performing cleanup work in the Coeur d’Alene River Basin since the early 1980’s, and the lawsuit also sought to recover cleanup costs.
Settlements have already been reached with other mining companies that had historic operations in the valley, which is 50 miles east of Spokane, Wash. That included ASARCO, which along with Hecla, was a primary Defendant. ASARCO reached a settlement in 2008 to pay nearly $500 million toward cleanup. The Bunker Hill Superfund site is one of the nation’s largest and most contaminated, with widespread releases of toxic metals such as lead and arsenic that have sickened residents for decades. Despite years of cleanup, much contamination remains.
Before the EPA cleanup began, the Silver Valley was so saturated with pollution that it stripped the hillsides of vegetation and poisoned the blood of children, causing physical and emotional problems that continue to this day. The EPA has spent nearly 20 years removing lead from the environment here. The agency claims great success because the average blood lead level of children has dropped to about normal, which is 2 micrograms per deciliter of blood. Cleanup efforts have centered on public health, including replacing soil in about 5,800 residential yards. Meanwhile, Hecla Mining continues work to expand its Lucky Friday Mine. The company is spending $200 million to increase silver production by about 60% and extend the mine life beyond 2030. A worker died at the mine after a roof caved in earlier this year. The consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court.
Source: Associated Press
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