The deadline to submit comments on the draft Coeur d’Alene Basin Restoration Plan and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is tomorrow, Friday, January 13th. The Restoration Plan  is meant to provide a comprehensive strategic framework to guide the restoration of natural resources and their services injured by the release of mining related hazardous substances in the Coeur d’Alene Basin. As a result of numerous legal settlements in accordance with the provisions from the CERCLA, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, and Federal and State governments obtained funds for cleanup and restoration of injured natural resources from parties responsible for the contamination in the Coeur d’Alene Basin. These funds are to be used to “restore, rehabilitate, replace, and/or acquire the equivalent of natural resources and services that have been injured (hereinafter referred to as restoration).” This Plan generally sets forth how these funds will be spent.

While a plan that will specifically address those natural resources that have been harmed by the mine-waste contamination is long overdue and critical. Yet conservationists have concerns about the draft Restoration Plan and EIS:

Restore Hangman Creek

Conservationists applaud the Coeur d’Alene Basin Natural Resource Trustees for considering an option to restore the upper reaches of Hangman Creek, and encourages the Trustees to commit to restoring the upper reaches of Hangman Creek important to the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and the broader public for ecological purposes, not just human-uses.

Protect Lake Coeur d’Alene

Lake Coeur d’Alene has 75-100 million metric tons of toxic heavy metals that have settled to the bottom. Changing lake-water chemistry could resuspend the pollution with catastrophic results for the lake and the Spokane River. The lake needs an effective plan and funding. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) needs to take the lead but has not. The Restoration Plan should call upon EPA to provide leadership for lake cleanup.

Reduce Toxic Flooding

Forested watershed in the Coeur d’Alene River and St. Joe River are largely managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Intensive logging especially in the Coeur d’Alene National Forest starting in the 1950s have destabilized watersheds and worsened flooding. Floods disgorged from the mountains wash across 15,000 acres of wetlands covered with millions of tons of mining and smelting pollution, carrying massive amounts of lead and other heavy metals into Lake Coeur d’Alene and the Spokane River. The two major federal plans in the basin – the Idaho Panhandle National Forest Plan and EPA’s Superfund Remedy – fail to connect to each other. The result is that the entire basin remains vulnerable to toxic flooding. The Restoration Plan should call upon the U.S. Forest Service (a Coeur d’Alene Basin Natural Resource Trustee) and EPA to correct this problem.