SPOKANE, Wash. — 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, the Environmental Protection Agency said yesterday.
The Department of Justice announced yesterday that
“We are really pleased with this settlement because it helps us get certainty and hopefully begin a new era moving forward in the valley,’’ said Dennis McLerran, EPA regional director in Seattle.
The settlement was filed yesterday in federal court in Boise, Idaho. Hecla was the last major defendant remaining in a huge Superfund lawsuit filed in 1991.
Of the money, 75 percent will go to the EPA for cleanup work. The remaining 25 percent 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 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 1980s, and the lawsuit also sought to recover cleanup costs.
The governments have reached settlements with other mining companies that had historic operations in the valley, which is 50 miles east of Spokane. That included ASARCO, which along with Hecla was a primary defendant. ASARCO reached a settlement in 2008 to pay nearly $500 million toward cleanup. Like the ASARCO settlement, the Hecla deal is among the top 10 cash settlements in Superfund history, the EPA said. The toxic waste fund is drawn on to clean up the most dangerous hazardous waste sites in the country.
“This agreement will help pay for the US government’s cleanup activities, secures natural resource damages, and will restore critical habitats to fish and wildlife in the Coeur d’Alene River Basin,’’ said Ignacia S. Moreno, assistant attorney general for the environment at the Justice Department.
The Superfund site, known as Bunker Hill, 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.