Idaho environmental officials want to create a powerful commission to guide cleanup of mining contamination. It would replace the existing, governor-appointed Coeur d'Alene Basin Commission and have the authority to spend money from a trust fund, as well as to enter into agreements with governments. "This is not a state entity, but its own," said Steve Allred, director of the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality. The seven commissioners would represent Idaho, Washington, the federal government and the tribe, in addition to Shoshone, Kootenai and Benewah counties. It would be created by agreements signed by all of those parties. Every commissioner would have veto power, Allred said. In a presentation to the Coeur d'Alene Basin Commission, he handed out copies of a "Discussion Paper Regarding the Coeur d'Alene Environmental Improvement Act" which would be presented to the 2001 Idaho Legislature. Congress and the tribe also would have to approve the commission. So would the state of Washington, if it chooses to participate. Aug. 9, members of the Coeur d'Alene Basin Commission formed a subcommittee to decide what position to take regarding the proposal to replace them.
The Environmental Protection Agency's national ombudsman will hold an Aug. 19 public hearing, despite U.S. Justice Department attempts to delay it. Justice represents the tribe in its lawsuit against mining and railroad companies. The tribe seeks $1 billion for cleanup. In early August, U.S. Assistant Attorney General Lois J. Schiffer raised legal objections to EPA ombudsman Bob Martin's hearing. Schiffer asked for a delay of the open public hearing process until special rules could be put in place to prevent details of the tribe's lawsuit from leaking. "There is clear risk that the ombudsman's process could undercut the judicial process and harm the United States' interests in the ongoing case" as well as tribal interests. "Our job is to fight for the people to get the truth to bubble up in these cases," said Martin's chief investigator, Hugh Kaufman. "This is clearly a case of them working against that to hide the truth from the public." Martin agreed in April to review results of the EPA's cleanup actions on the original 21-square-mile Superfund site and plans to expand the inquiry in the agency's attempt to list another 1,500 miles of shoreline in the Coeur d'Alene Basin.
The tribe alleges that Worley's assistant fire chief ignored tribal authorities at a June 19 fire scene, and that firefighters may not respond aggressively to fires on tribal land. The allegations, denied by Worley Fire District officials, further strained relations between the tribe and the district that protects its casino and much of its tribal housing. Talks aimed at the possibility of a joint tribal-Worley fire department broke down a year ago. This month, tribal Chairman Ernie Stensgar wrote to Worley Fire commissioners complaining that Assistant Chief Dan Sneve had turned his back on tribal law officers. Tribal officers suggested a fire truck be moved to the back of the building, where the fire burned most fiercely. "It's standard fire tactics that you work from the unburned part of the building into the burnt part," Worley Fire Chief Lonnie Dyer said. Tension erupted when a tribal newspaper columnist suggested firefighters bungled. A tribal investigation concluded the mostly volunteer firefighters responded quickly, but questioned how the fire was fought and the way tribal officers were treated. That investigation relied partly on comments of a witness called an experienced firefighter. Dyer said the man was no "expert," but rather an 18-year-old with six months experience as an Explorer Scout with a Utah fire department.