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Coeur d'Alene Tribe opposes Hecla Mining Co.'s clean-up proposal

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The tribe opposes Hecla Mining Co.'s offer to spend $138 million over 30 years to clean up a century of mining pollution in the Coeur d'Alene River Basin and contamination at other sites. In a letter to Hecla Chairman Arthur Brown, Chairman Ernie Stensgar said the tribe is more concerned about where than how much money will be spent. Hecla's proposed agreement includes paying for cleanup at the Grouse Creek Stibnite mines in central Idaho. The tribe previously estimated a comprehensive cleanup in the basin will cost about $3 billion, and that Hecla should be responsible for one-third of that amount.

'The tribe has never been interested in bankrupting neighboring industries and could back the current settlement if more of the moneys were to be used in our basin,'' Stensgar wrote. 'The tribe sued to force cleanup in the Coeur d'Alene Basin, not southern Idaho. ?We remain optimistic that a fair deal, one which provides more money to the basin cleanup will be struck.'' Hecla's settlement must be approved by U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge. Hecla is the fourth of five mining companies to negotiate a settlement to the 1991 lawsuit brought by the government and the tribe.

A cohesive strategy on public use of the tribally owned southern third of Lake Coeur d'Alene is emerging with topics from fishing licenses to boat registrations, dock maintenance to float home inspections, speed zones to law enforcement. 'We are not here to just make decisions, and not care what other people say,'' said Alfred Nomee, who heads the tribe's Natural Resources Department. 'But there are final decisions that will be made by the tribe.''

Some could cause conflict. For example, Nomee said the tribe may decide to establish a no-wake zone, lowering the speed limit to 5 miles-per-hour along the stretch of the St. Joe River it owns between St. Maries and the mouth of the lake. That might not go over well in Benewah County, where it is quicker to zip by boat from St. Maries to Coeur d'Alene than to drive there. The tribe is talking with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game about a single fishing license, honored across the entire lake. The tribe most likely will not approve any new float homes, and will require existing ones to have an off-water septic system approved by the tribe or Panhandle Health District.