Washington, Idaho feud over mining cleanup


Associated Press

SPOKANE — Like neighbors bickering over dog droppings, politicians in Washington and Idaho are battling over who should clean up decades worth of mining pollution in the Silver Valley.

The pollution, including lead and arsenic, flowed into Idaho’s Lake Coeur d’Alene, and entered Washington through the Spokane River, traveling all the way to its confluence with the Columbia.

All sides agree the river basin should be cleaned up, but they differ on the approach.

Idaho officials want more control, and want the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, especially its dreaded Superfund designation, to butt out.

A big reason is that mining jobs have declined, while tourism to northern Idaho’s lakes and ski resorts has become a big business. Idahoans fear that few vacationers will schedule trips to Superfund sites.

That makes many Washington residents suspicious that Idaho is more interested in cleaning up its image than its pollution. Washington wants the EPA to largely fund and control the work.

"We cannot be dependent on Idaho’s legislators to protect Washington citizens, only Idaho mining companies," Jeffrey Hedge of Spokane complained at a recent public hearing in Spokane.

The EPA designated a 21-square-mile area around Kellogg, Idaho, a Superfund site in 1983, and nearly finished cleaning it up. Environmental groups are now pushing for a much larger cleanup of the entire Coeur d’Alene River Basin.

The EPA is conducting studies and will decide next year if it should extend cleanup work all the way into Washington state, and whether to use Superfund trust money.

Two public hearings — on Aug. 19 in Coeur d’Alene and Nov. 14 in Spokane — drew many of the region’s power brokers.

Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, Sens. Mike Crapo and Larry Craig and Rep. Helen Chenoweth-Hage, all Idaho Republicans, appeared at the Idaho event.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chaired the Spokane event, and said EPA must ensure that the health of people along the Spokane River will be protected.

"We see EPA as being the only body that can do a thorough, fair job," added Jani Gilbert, a spokeswoman for the Washington state Department of Ecology.

That feeling is not universal. Republican Rep. George Nethercutt, who represents the Spokane area in Congress, said "a Superfund designation would buy gridlock and litigation."

Washington officials became interested in the issue in 1998, when federal scientists detected high levels of lead, arsenic and zinc in a 90-mile stretch of the Spokane River, from Post Falls, Idaho, to Lake Roosevelt in Eastern Washington.

The extent of the pollution is unclear, and it is not considered an imminent threat to human health. But signs have been posted along the river which warn that swallowing or breathing soil may pose health risks.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Talk to us

More in Local News

FILE - A sign hangs at a Taco Bell on May 23, 2014, in Mount Lebanon, Pa. Declaring a mission to liberate "Taco Tuesday" for all, Taco Bell asked U.S. regulators Tuesday, May 16, 2023, to force Wyoming-based Taco John's to abandon its longstanding claim to the trademark. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)
Hepatitis A confirmed in Taco Bell worker in Everett, Lake Stevens

The health department sent out a public alert for diners at two Taco Bells on May 22 or 23.

VOLLI’s Director of Food & Beverage Kevin Aiello outside of the business on Friday, May 19, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Coming soon to Marysville: indoor pickleball, games, drinks

“We’re very confident this will be not just a hit, but a smash hit,” says co-owner Allan Jones, who is in the fun industry.

Detectives: Unresponsive baby was exposed to fentanyl at Everett hotel

An 11-month-old boy lost consciousness Tuesday afternoon. Later, the infant and a twin sibling both tested positive for fentanyl.

Cassie Franklin (left) and Nick Harper (right)
Report: No wrongdoing in Everett mayor’s romance with deputy mayor

An attorney hired by the city found no misuse of public funds. Texts between the two last year, however, were not saved on their personal phones.

Firearm discovered by TSA officers at Paine Field Thursday morning, May 11, 2023, during routine X-ray screening at the security checkpoint. (Transportation Security Administration)
3 guns caught by TSA at Paine Field this month — all loaded

Simple travel advice: Unpack before you pack to make sure there’s not a gun in your carry-on.

Heavy traffic northbound on 1-5 in Everett, Washington on August 31, 2022.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
To beat the rush this Memorial Day weekend, go early or late

AAA projects busy airports, ferries and roads over the holiday weekend this year, though still below pre-pandemic counts.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Snohomish in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Troopers: DUI crash leaves 1 in critical condition in Maltby

A drunken driver, 34, was arrested after her pickup rear-ended another truck late Tuesday, injuring a Snohomish man, 28.

Housing Hope CEO Donna Moulton raises her hand in celebration of the groundbreaking of the Housing Hope Madrona Highlands on Tuesday, May 23, 2023 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
$30M affordable housing project to start construction soon in Edmonds

Once built, dozens of families who are either homeless or in poverty will move in and receive social and work services.

Smoke comes out of the roof of ReMyx'd, a restaurant on Smokey Point Drive, on Sunday, May 28, 2023, in Arlington, WA. (IAFF Local 3438)
Fire damages Arlington bar that received death threats

Arlington Police say initial indications are that fire at ReMyx’d does not appear to be intentionally set.

Most Read