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Cleanup Work Resumes in Idaho's Silver Valley

Idaho Public TV

Cleanup work is getting underway again in the areas contaminated by mining waste in north Idaho’s Silver Valley. Bad weather forced a delay in some of those projects this spring. The people leading the cleanup work held a briefing for reporters Tuesday in Coeur d’Alene.

Bill Adams from the Environmental Protection Agency says between $20 million and $30 million will be spent this spring and summer on new and ongoing projects as part of the cleanup. Many of them are focused on the populated areas of Kellogg, Wallace and some of the nearby towns. There are still yards that have contaminated soil that must be hauled away and replaced with clean fill dirt. There are buildings that still cleaning. And there are projects where the goal is protect newly-cleaned areas from being recontaminated.

Engineers are doing design work for a new treatment plant where wastewater from the mines and storm water will be routed. Construction on that is due to begin next year. It’s expected to keep huge amounts of contaminated water from reaching waterways.

Adams says the federal and state cleanup work has motivated local communities to take on their own projects, improving infrastructure, such as sewers and sidewalks.

“There’s more pride in the community," Adams said. "They can see that the work has made a huge improvement in the community. The hillsides were bare at that point in time and they’ve all been revegetated and roads have been paved. We’ve remediated more than seven thousand properties.”

Adams expects much of the work in the communities to be done in two or three years and the focus turned exclusively to cleaning up the hills above the Silver Valley. Work is also being done downstream in the Coeur d’Alene Basin to find contaminated areas and make them safer for wildlife, especially birds, and people. In addition, as the health of children who were once exposed to lead has improved, health authorities look to expand their programs that blood lead testing programs.