MAC: Mines and Communities

Settlement for $263 Million in favour of Idaho Tribes after 20 years lawsuit

Published by MAC on 2011-06-20
Source: Environmental News Service, Bloomberg (2011-06-14)

Yet another people's victory this week

Hecla Will Pay $263 Million for Mining Damage in Idaho

Environmental News Service (ENS)

14 June 2011

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho - A Superfund lawsuit originally brought 20 years ago by a tribal government against a giant mining company was settled Monday in favor of the tribe, the United States and the State of Idaho, resolving one of the largest cases ever filed under the Superfund law.

Bunker Hill Superfund site designated in 1983
Bunker Hill Superfund site designated in 1983.
Source: ENS (Photo by Samir Arora)

Under the settlement, Hecla Mining Company will pay $263.4 million plus interest to the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, the United States and the state of Idaho to resolve claims stemming from releases of wastes from its silver mining operations.

The lawsuit sought damages for injuries to natural resources such as clean water, fish and birds caused by millions of tons of mining wastes that had been released into the South Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River and its tributaries.

Settlement funds will be dedicated to restoration and remediation of natural resources in Idaho's Coeur d'Alene Basin at the Bunker Hill Superfund Site, one of the nation's largest and most contaminated.

At one time, the Upper Basin, or Silver Valley, was one of the largest silver producing districts in the world. As a result, the basin has been contaminated by the release of metals like lead and arsenic, which are widespread.

EPA began cleanup at the site in the 1980s, focusing on protecting human health. Although measurable improvements in public and environmental health have been achieved, widespread contamination remains a challenge and cleanup work will continue for many years.

Lodged in federal district court in Idaho Monday, the settlement brings closure to that lawsuit and establishes a basis for future cooperation between Hecla and the governments in the Coeur d'Alene Basin.

The lawsuit was originally brought against Hecla and other mining companies by the Coeur d'Alene Tribe in 1991 and was joined by the United States in 1996. The State of Idaho joined the lawsuit on Monday to participate in the settlement and resolve its own claims against Hecla.

"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," said Chief J. Allan, chairman of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe. "Against all odds, the tribe made an unpopular decision to bring one of the largest superfund lawsuits in our nation's history."

"Today we honor Henry SiJohn, Lawrence Aripa and Richard Mullen, three former leaders who were instrumental in that decision and who all passed away before they could see the results of their remarkable determination," said Chief Allan. "As we move from litigation to restoration, I'm certain they are smiling down on us today."

"The tribe is hopeful that this settlement marks a new chapter in the stewardship of the land we all hold dear," Chief Allan said. "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."

The settlement includes a process for coordinating Hecla's future mining operations with cleanup activities in the Coeur d'Alene Basin.

"This settlement means cleanup and mining can now move forward together in the Silver Valley," said Dennis McLerran, EPA Regional Administrator in Seattle. "Today's agreement not only provides more money for cleanup, but helps lay the foundation for a stronger future: one built on mining stewardship, a healthier environment and a growing, vibrant economy."

Established in 1891, Hecla Mining Company is the largest silver producer in the United States.

"We are encouraged by the lodging of the consent decree and continued cooperation by all related parties to resolve this longstanding litigation," said Hecla President and Chief Executive Officer Phillips S. Baker, Jr. "We expect the settlement to be finalized and effective in the third quarter 2011."

Prior to reaching this settlement with Hecla, the United States, the tribe and Idaho had settled their claims against other defendants named in lawsuits regarding historic mine releases in the Coeur d'Alene Basin.

History of the current case includes a 78-day trial in 2001 by the United States and the tribe against ASARCO and Hecla on liability issues. ASARCO, the other primary defendant named in the lawsuit, reached settlement with the United States in 2008 while it was emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy. After the ASARCO settlement, U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge postponed the second phase of the trial against Hecla to allow time for a settlement with Hecla.

"This agreement will help pay for the U.S. government's clean-up activities, secures natural resource damages, and will restore critical habitats to fish and wildlife in the Coeur d'Alene River Basin." said Ignacia Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division at the Department of Justice.

"This settlement brings decades of litigation to a close and provides a clear path to continue restoring the health of the environment, economy and communities of the Coeur d'Alene Basin," said Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter.

Seventy-five percent of the recovery funds will be used for response actions at the Bunker Hill Superfund Site. The remaining amount will fund natural resource restoration projects, the EPA said in a statement. The federal agencies responsible for the affected natural resources see this settlement as an opportunity.

"This settlement provides substantial funding that the trustees will use to restore habitat for fish, birds and other natural resources that have been injured for many decades by mining wastes," said Rachel Jacobson, acting assistant secretary for Fish, Wildlife, and Parks at the U.S. Department of Interior.

Maggie Pittman, acting forest supervisor for the Idaho Panhandle National Forests agreed. "Our agencies brought this case to ensure restoration of the Coeur d'Alene River Basin for the communities it serves, and that is what this settlement provides."

The consent decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court.

Click here for a copy of the consent decree: http://www.justice.gov/enrd/5288.htm.


Hecla Mining to Pay $263 Million in Superfund Settlement

By Kim Chipman

Bloomberg

13 June 2011

Hecla Mining Co. (HL), the biggest U.S. silver producer, agreed to pay more than $263 million to settle one of the nation's largest Superfund lawsuits after two decades, according to the Obama administration.

Hecla's payment, including interest, will be made to the federal government, the Coeur d'Alene Indian Tribe and the state of Idaho, resolving claims stemming from waste discharged from its mining operations, the U.S. Justice Department said today in an e-mailed statement.

The lawsuit, brought by the American Indian tribe in 1991 and joined by the U.S. five years later, sought money to deal with water and wildlife damage in northern Idaho. The case was one of the biggest pursued under the Superfund law, which seeks to make polluters pay for eliminating environmental hazards.

"This agreement will help pay for the U.S. government's clean-up activities, secures natural resource damages and will restore critical habitats to fish and wildlife in the Coeur d'Alene River Basin," Ignacia Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division, said in a statement.

Melanie Hennessey, a spokeswoman for Coeur D'Alene-based Hecla, declined to comment.

The Superfund site, known as Bunker Hill, is among the biggest and most contaminated in the U.S., according to the Justice Department. The region, once one of the world's largest silver-producing districts, was harmed by the release of metals such as lead and arsenic, according to the department.
Contamination Remains

While the Environmental Protection Agency began cleaning up the site in the 1980s, the area remains contaminated, according to the administration.

"This settlement means cleanup and mining can now move forward together in the Silver Valley," Dennis McLerran, EPA regional administrator in Seattle, said in a statement.

The consent decree was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho and is subject to 30 days of public comment and approval by the federal court, according to the Justice Department.

Hecla fell 16 cents, or 2.2 percent, to $7.22 at 3:11 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The stock has slumped 34 percent this year through June 10.


Hecla to pay $263.4M in cleanup costs

By Alecia Warren

http://www.cdapress.com

14 June 2011

Among 10 largest cash settlements achieved under Superfund.

Mining waste cleanup in the Coeur d'Alene Basin will receive an impressive financial boost, thanks to a settlement over one of the largest cases ever filed under the Superfund statute.

Hecla Mining Company has agreed to pay $263.4 million plus interest to the federal government, the Coeur d'Alene Tribe and the state of Idaho to resolve claims over environmental damages caused by the Coeur d'Alene company's mining waste.

This is among the 10 largest cash settlements achieved under Superfund, said Dan Opalski, Superfund director for the Environmental Protection Agency.

"We are feeling extremely good about this settlement as something that we really hope signals a new day in the Silver Valley, in terms of moving beyond a significant and ongoing phase of litigation," Opalski said after the announcement on Monday.

The settlement is the denouement of a 20-year-old lawsuit that sought damages for injuries to clean water, fish and birds, caused by millions of tons of mining waste released into the South Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River and its tributaries.

The cleanup of this damage has been the focus of Superfund work that the Environmental Protection Agency and Idaho have been involved in since the early '80s.

"In the basin we have been dealing with the intersection of some significant legacy issues, as well as the very strong interests there and the continuing of an industry that has been part of the culture," Opalski said of why the settlement took so long. "It's been a difficult conversation. I think it's really a telling accomplishment of folks on both the government side as well as on the Hecla Mining Company side to finally say 'Enough is enough. We both have priority work to do, let's get on with it.'"

Hecla spokespeople could not be reached for comment on Monday.

About 75 percent of the settlement funds will go toward the EPA and other natural-resource related agencies within the federal government.

The remaining 25 percent will be divided among the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, the state and federal natural resource trustees.

All dollars will go toward continuing cleanup efforts in the lower and upper Coeur d'Alene basins.

This new injection of dollars should ramp up efforts, said Cami Grandinetti, Coeur d'Alene Team manager, and likely lead to more cleanup-related jobs.

"How many more jobs, I don't know, but there will be more jobs," Grandinetti said.

There is still roughly $2 billion worth of cleanup that needs to be done, she said.

"The costs are significant remaining, absolutely," Grandinetti said.

The settlement will help fund more cleanup of metal-contaminated properties throughout the basin, Opalski said, which could take another two years to complete.

There will also be more focus on addressing tailings ponds that are leaching into tributaries, he said. Long-term water treatment and protecting finished cleanup work are other goals.

The EPA is still sorting through comments submitted on the proposed Upper Basin Cleanup plan, Opalski said when asked if the funds would go toward that.

"Resources here are another piece of the puzzle in providing us more ability to do more work," he said.

Don Ferguson, a Cataldo contractor who has been working on yard cleanup projects, said he is relieved to hear about the settlement.

There has been uncertainty about how long cleanup contracts will last, he said, and whether more jobs will be available.

"The federal government is subject to budgets, the same as everybody else," said Ferguson, who was working on a yard cleanup in Wallace on Monday. "At least now they have this pot of money set aside specifically for reclamation."

More cleanup projects being funded should add some security to his own budget, he added.

"As far as contracts, there will be more opportunities for me to bid on," Ferguson said.

The settlement, released in a proposed consent decree, also includes a provision for coordinating future cleanup activities with Hecla's mining operations.

"There have been ongoing discussions and debate as to how cleanup can be moved forward as we provide opportunities and space for active mining to proceed," Opalski said. "We believe the decree and its provisions help provide much more coordinating and framework for that to move forward."

The consent decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court.

A copy can be viewed at: www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html

The Coeur d'Alene Tribe originally brought the suit against Hecla and other mining companies in 1991. The U.S. joined the suit in 1996.

The state of Idaho also joined the suit on Monday to participate in the settlement and resolve its claims against Hecla.

The lawsuit had a 78-day trial in 2001.

ASARCO, the other primary defendant named in the suit, reached a settlement to pay $494 million in 2008, when the company was emerging from bankruptcy.

The U.S., the Tribe and state have already settled claims against other defendants named in the suit, including Sunshine Mining and Corps Mining.

Chief Allan, chairman of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, lauded the former tribal leaders responsible for the suit.

"As we move from litigation to restoration, I'm certain they are smiling down on us today," Allan said. "The Tribe is hopeful that this settlement marks a new chapter in the stewardship of the land we all hold dear."

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