Chuck Moss is the director of the State of Idaho Bunker Hill project team. He has worked on Silver Valley issues with Governors Andrus, Batt, and Kempthorne.
Q: When did the State of Idaho get involved in Superfund?
A: In 1981 the smelter closed, and that lead to the economy going into the ditch. In 1983 it was declared a Superfund site. In 1985 the area began a children’s blood lead intervention program. In 1991 and 1992 a Record of Decision was put in place, which figured out what to do about the environment and other things. The state bought into that in 1995, and construction started. Probably by 2002, 95% of the project was done.
Q: Were folks concerned when the federal government entered the picture?
A: You need to remember, EPA had a couple things going for them. One, they had the money, and they also had the authority. That makes sometimes who really is the top dog, the top dog.
Gulf Resources went bankrupt and some other things happened. The state is required to sign an agreement that the state will pay 10% of the environmental remediation costs. In the state’s case here, it was about $12,000,000.
There’s a long story about how we worked it out so there’s no cash payment to EPA. We get credit for work that is done outside the Superfund site, or that was not in the original cleanup plan. And the Legislature met their obligations because also the state, when we signed that agreement, has to accept 100% of the maintenance and operation costs once environmental remdiation is done, and the state accepts it. So there had to be established a trust fund, if you will, so that the state would have enough money to do the operation and maintenance.
"EPA had the money and the authority. That makes sometimes who really is the top dog the top dog."
The Legislature came through, and they have appropriated over the last life of the project since the state contract, over $10,000,000; most of that, $7,000,000 or something like that, is in this trust fund; the interest supports the operation and maintenance of the fixes.
Q: So, how was the actual cleanup work divided up?
A: It was pretty well determined that the State would take the lead in the populated areas; in other words, where the communities were, Kellogg, Wardner, Smelterville, Pinehurst, and some other non-incorporated areas. The state would be responsible for that portion, the populated area, and EPA would be responsible for the nonpopulated area, which was primarily the industrial complexes – the smelter, the zinc plant, phosphate plant and that sort of thing. And each one of those required a different cleanup technique.
The EPA had the final authority. There wasn’t any question about that; but the state had a major role in determining how all that was done. It was a convoluted management operation, frankly. Organizational clarity was not one of its major attributes, but basically the teams got along pretty well, mutual respect and give and take, and the project came in right on budget and on time.
Q: And Gulf Resources went bankrupt?
A: Gulf was gone. In fact, I’ve seen the buildings that they put their money in, in New Zealand. We weren’t going to get the rent off those buildings in New Zealand. We did get some money from Loyds of London, however. So did the Coeur d’ Alene Tribe, about $8,000,000, that we didn’t have to match, so that was a good thing to have happened.
The thing was that we had to fix the Valley. We had to fix the Box that’s in the Valley, and I can tell you, in my humble judgment, we’ve actually done that.
Q: How did you determine the 21 square mile area as the Box?
A: It was just pretty much an arbitrary thing. Let’s just draw a square so we don’t have to worry about boundaries and other things. That was one of the easiest things we did, frankly.
Q: So how did you personally get involved?
"We had to fix the Box, and I can tell you, in my humble judgment, we’ve actually done that."
A: Congress hadn’t appropriated any money, and the community had this Superfund designation on them and that was a stigma. There wasn’t any question about that. So the community got together, they had a task force, and they wrote Governor Andrus, and he asked, ‘do you want somebody to represent you in the Silver Valley to see if we can start getting the clean-up done?’ And so Governor Andrus sent me up there to work with the community.
Also, the State had sued the mining companies for environmental degradation, and literally settled on the Courthouse steps in 1986, because the Legislature didn’t fund the Attorney General’s office enough to carry out the suit. The result of that settlement was a Trust and the trustees were the Governor, the Attorney General, a couple of mining company representatives, county commissioners and a couple of other citizens.
There were seven trustees, and we activated the Trust in 1982, and in negotiating the Superfund contract, we negotiated the work that the Silver Valley trustees were to do, primarily on tributaries of the South Fork in Canyon Creek and Nine Mile as a credit against this $12,600,000 that we needed for match at Bunker Hill.
I was chairman of the trustees that represented Andrus and governor Batt and governor Kempthorne.
Q: Is there a project you’re most proud of?
A: We completed one major public works project called the Milo Creek project. Milo Creek flooded. It comes down through Wardner, and it used to be old pipes, everything from somebody’s water tank to wooden culverts and that sort of thing.
It washed out, and when it did, it recontaminated a number of the yards that had already been cleaned up. So we got a disaster declaration through the Department of Disaster Services and ended up getting eight separate funding agencies involved in the Milo Creek project.
We put the creek in a “box” and literally rebuilt the streets in Wardner. We spent $16,000,000. All those agencies had separate procurement needs, separate money coming at separate times. It’s a very unique project that we did, and it’s done, and frankly, it made a third of Kellog a city rather than a town; and it made Wardner a city.
It was a great improvement. That’s one of the most positive things I think that has come out of the whole Superfund issue.
Q: How did Idaho’s Legislature react to this Superfund designation?
A: I think, as I mentioned earlier, EPA had the money and the authority. The State needed to leverage that in the best way that we could, to promote our own interests. And I think, by and large, we did that.
Frankly, I can’t remember of a negative vote in Joint Finance and Appropriation Committee when we got the first bunch of appropriations, and the last bunch was scheduled for ten years. We had a contractual arrangement with EPA that that had to happen; but that doesn’t necessarily mean the Legislature had to appropriate it, as you know, but they did.
There was a recognition on the part of the Legislature that this wasn’t a Valley issue. This was an issue that affected the entire state, and the legislature came through.
That didn’t stop the Valley from going through some tough times.
They went through some tough times. And when you have a commnunity where unemployment is 20% or better, and underemployment was a lot worse than that, they’re not going to be very positive about very many things. The community now has got a new hospital, the Rails to Trails thing goes through the whole Silver Valley. I think the agony that they went through and the resilience they demonstrated is now paying off.
Q: It seems that the Institutional Control Program was crucial in starting to turn things around.
A: Nationwide, the Institutional Control Program, the one adopted by the localities, and the one that is run by the Panhandle Health District, is accepted as one of the most unique and one of the most positive ways to approach cleanups. And EPA is now moving toward that in a lot more areas.
There’s no way to haul all this stuff off. First you can’t afford it; second, there’s no place to put it; so it has to be managed, and that’s what the Iinstitutional Control Program does.
We’ve done it, and it’s a practical sort of way to approach things. There are a bunch of lessons learned. We’ve done that. In fact, Northern Idaho College has now got an outreach program going on in Kellog; and we think we can move people who are interested in environmental studies and activies into a program to study this institutional control way to approach things.
It’s that effective, and it’s that unique, and it’s becoming recognized all over the United States.
Q: What are the liability issues for the State of Idaho?
A: The operation and maintenance of the site is in perpetuity; but there’s an operation and maintenance plan that lives off the interest of the trust fund. So there shouldn’t be any additional appropriations for that. Now, as far as the State’s general liability for environmental degradation, the contracts hold the State harmless from that. That’s not an issue. That only applies to the Box, the Superfund site. The basin issues still haven’t all been resolved yet. The State’s going to have to put some money in the basin. There’s no question about that; and they appropriated some this legislative session. The basin, again, is a separate set of circumstances.
"Small towns in Idaho are in trouble. Kellogg, Smelterville, and Pinehurst may have the best opportunities of any of them."
Q: Where was the Coeur d’Alene Tribe in all this?
A: The Tribe was pretty much an effective partner in the Superfund site. They recognized that that was about the best we could do, and they didn’t give us many fits and starts. I haven’t dealt with them on the basin, so I don’t know. I think that’s probably a different issue, particularly the lake. They’ve always been more concerned about the lake than they have the Box. We dealt with their environmental people, with their attorneys. In looking back, I don’t really think, again, that they gave us a lot of concern, and gave us, I think, some good ideas.
Q: Idaho’s politicians weren’t supportive of expanding Superfund to include the Coeur d’Alene basin. Why?
A: I would have not expanded the site until we had certain things in place, like adquate disposal areas. There’s a real problem of where you are going to put any contamination outside the Box. That was not done.
Now, yards in a rural area are a lot different than yards in a municipality. You can have a yard in a rural area that is 14 acres. What do you do with that? It’s in the record of decision, but I wouldn’t have announced the expansion of the Box until more of those things had been done.
A lot of them have been done now, but it’s a little bit after the fact. We still have no physical places to put materials. We’ve got a couple, but outside the Box and not near enough, I don’t think.
EPA was reluctant to expand the Box. I think it was in 1991. The Tribe had filed an environmental suit against the mining companies. The EPA had to join that suit in hopes that somewhere down they road, they would get some cost recovery. And Superfund envisions that there will be cost recovery. That’s inherent in the law.
There won’t be much cost recovery, but EPA felt it necessary to do that, in case somebody all of a sudden had a lot of money.
Q: How did you get along with the folks in Silver Valley?
A: When I first started up there, we kept talking about a risk assessment. We’ve got to do a risk assessment to determine what we do about human health and cleaning up so your kid’s blood levels so they drop.
And they would sit there, and they would look at your ear. ‘Risk assessment? Hell, I’ll clean up that kid at night when he comes in from the yard. Risk is down there in that mine, and I’m going to get a rock burst and get killed. That’s my risk.’
So when I would say, ‘this is what I did for you’, I wouldn’t approach it like that. I’d say, ‘this is the status of the valley now. This is the opportunity we have.’
EPA used to come up there, and they’d sit up in front of the task force and citizens and say what they were going to do the next three months for clean up, which was fine. They were going to do something about Bunker creek, and whatever and they would talk about their “burn rate.”
Well, their burn rate was how fast they had to spend the money that they had deposited with the Corps of Engineers. And I just went ballistic. Don’t you ever talk with the citizens and tax payers and people who don’t like you in the first place about burning their money.
You have to recognize the audience. When I first went up there, I drove the alleys and saw how many houses were dark and just like I would when I went into a city. I always drove the alleys to see what the town looked like. Then I went to the task force and said, this is what we ought to do.
The best thing I did was go up to Dirty Harry’s bar, which is a bar right above the football field, and I sat down at the end of the bar and listened to folks. Pretty soon you get kind of a sense. You are not the king of the hill. You are that turkey from Boise.
Q: Didn’t they name a street after you?
A: Yeah. Kellog city council did. I’ve been up there quite a while. EPA keeps changing people, and here comes a new face. It’s Silver Valley 101 again. They’ll get up in front of an audience and they think they are preaching to the downtown Seattle city club. It just don’t work.
Q: Are you optimistic about the Silver Valley?
A: Yes. Eagle Crest has got a 50 million dollar development plan. They’ve done the due diligence. They are a responsible outfit. That’s the big impetus, and they are well funded. Good Lord, the place is going to get a Wal-Mart! You couldn’t buy a pair of underwear up there since Penney’s left. That’s been several years ago. There’s a new hospital.
Small towns in Idaho, all of them are in trouble. And Kellog and Smelterville and Pinehurst, they may have the best opportunities of any of them. You go around over the State. It ain’t Boise, I’ll tell you for sure. Rural Idaho is in trouble, and so is western Kansas and eastern Illinois and every place else that is a small town.
Q: So this Superfund designation could actually the the silver lining for these northern Idaho towns?
A: Yeah, and I don’t think I’m overstating that. I really believe that.