Hecla will pay $263M to settle case

By Nicholas K. Geranios
Spokane, Washington (AP) June 2011

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 – one of the top 10 such settlements in history, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced that Hecla Mining Co., of 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.

The money will be used in the Environmental Protection Agency’s multi-billion dollar cleanup of toxic mining wastes. Hecla is the nation’s largest silver producer, operating the Lucky Friday Mine in the Silver Valley and a mine in Mexico.

The agreement was filed in federal court in Boise, Idaho.

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 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.

The governments have already reached settlements with other mining companies that had historic operations in 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.

“This agreement will help pay for the U.S. 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 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.

“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,” Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter said.

The consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court.