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Coeur d'Alene Tribe of Idaho


For more than year, federal officials tried to convince the tribe to support a Superfund cleanup for a St. Maries log yard, says a tribal scientist. It finally decided to support the Superfund designation, Phil Cernera said, because it saw no progress being made toward finding nonfederal money to clean up creosote contamination. The chemical linked to cancer was used to treat logs in a yard beside the St. Joe River. It spilled into the soil and began showing up in the riverbank and water in 1998. The tribe is well aware that both city and Benewah County officials are dead-set against a Superfund designation, Cernera said. "The tribe is trying to be good neighbors, but we've got creosote entering surface waters of the Coeur d'Alene Reservation." Long-term exposure to low doses of creosote can cause skin blistering; long-term exposure to high levels creates the prospect of cancer. Public comments will be taken until Jan. 30. The final listing could occur within three to six months, remedial project manager Hanh Gold said. "This is perfect Superfund stuff," Cernera said. "We get in, we do it, we get out, we put a feather in everyone's cap. We get the river clean." Like neighbors bickering over dog droppings, politicians in Washington and Idaho are battling over who should clean up decades worth of mining pollution in the Silver Valley. The pollution, including lead and arsenic, flowed into Idaho's Lake Coeur d'Alene and entered Washington through the Spokane River, traveling all the way to its confluence with the Columbia. The U.S. Justice Department and the tribe have filed a lawsuit against the three surviving mining companies in the Silver Valley, seeking about $1 billion for cleanup. All sides agree the river basin should be cleaned up, but they differ on the approach. Idaho officials want more control and want the federal Environmental Protection Agency - especially its dreaded Superfund designation - to butt out because of potential impact on tourism. Washington wants the EPA to largely fund and control the work. Some state residents say they suspect Idaho is more interested in cleaning up its image than its pollution. Idaho's Gov. Kempthorne and others are pushing a $250 million settlement mostly funded by Hecla Mining Co., Asarco Inc. and Coeur d'Alene Mines Corp. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and the EPA say Superfund dollars could be spent without the dreaded designation.