Hecla forced to pay
The Hecla Mining Company agreed to pay $263 million plus interest to resolve a lawsuit dating back 20 years.
In 1991 Hecla and other mining companies were sued by the Coeur d’Alene tribe over damages to natural resources in Idaho’s Silver Valley caused by some 100 million tons of toxic mining waste released into local waterways over the decades. A smelter used by the companies caused massive lead emissions that contaminated soil and showed up at high levels in the bloodstream of local children.
According to the Dirt Diggers Digest, the corporate defendants made the clean-up process as difficult and time-consuming as possible. One company, Gulf Resources and Chemical, went bankrupt in the 1990s, leaving little in the way of assets. Another, Asarco, also filed for bankruptcy in 2005 in an apparent attempt to sidestep huge environmental liabilities around the country, but the U.S. Justice Department was later able to get the company that took it over, Grupo Mexico, to pay $1.8 billion for cleanup costs at more than 80 toxic sites in 19 states, including $436 million for the Bunker Hill site.
The settlement also includes a process for co-ordinating Hecla’s future mining operations with cleanup activities in the Coeur d’Alene Basin. “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 S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division at the Department of Justice.
“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.”
The area of contamination was once 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. 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.
Chief J. Allan, Chairman of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe said “The tribe is hopeful that this settlement marks a new chapter in the stewardship of the land we all hold dear. 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.”