Federal taxpayers will help pay for the 72-mile Mullan-to-Plummer trail to be co-managed by the tribe and the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, even though Union Pacific Railroad is building the $20 million-plus recreation area. The taxpayer contribution displeases some project critics. They question whether UP should get any assistance in meeting its obligation to clean up the right of way where the rail is planned. Transportation money should go to roads and highways, not bike paths, they say. UP wants to abandon the scenic right of way and avoid liability for toxic metals by removing or capping the contamination. Lead and other metals dropped from trains that carried ore from the Silver Valley mining district. Federal money, funneled through the state Department of Transportation, is "specifically for enhancing the transportation system not for building roads," said a department spokeswoman. "It goes for historical preservation, environmental projects, rest areas, visitors centers. Project approval by the federal Surface Transportation Board was announced June 27. Contractors have been on hold for six weeks, eager to hire crews and get to work.
A six-month deadline passed for the state to settle a long-standing lawsuit over mining pollution in the Coeur d'Alene River Basin. But the Environmental Protection Agency is not following through on its threat to start the Superfund listing process for a 50-mile stretch of the river. Mark Snider, a spokesman for Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, said discussions continue toward a settlement of lawsuits filed early in the early 1990s by the tribe and the federal government, seeking money from mining companies to pay for a broader cleanup. The EPA said a mid-June federal appellate court ruling essentially eliminates the need to formally expand the existing 21-square-mile Superfund site at Kellogg's former Bunker Hill mine and smelter complex, listed in 1983. Federal officials interpret the appeals decision to mean authority to clean up contamination throughout the Coeur d'Alene River Basin is granted by existing Superfund status at the Bunker Hill site. Mining companies involved are mulling an appeal of the 9th Circuit decision on Superfund boundaries, a spokeswoman said.