As the cleanup of mine waste contamination in the Coeur d’Alene River basin moves ever-so-slowly downstream, government agencies are beginning to prepare. Studies are being done, computer models assembled, and basic data gathering is well underway. In response, some citizens are also coming together to make sure that community input is not forgotten.
At an initial exploratory meeting October 18th, community members and agency officials gathered at the Rose Lake Historical Society to discuss collaboration as a new way forward. In a facilitated discussion, local residents, farmers, ranchers, conservation and environmental interests, homeowner associations, agency officials got a very quick briefing on the environmental cleanup problems in the lower Coeur d’Alene and then considered whether more formal collaboration was worth pursuing.
Collaboration is used increasingly nationwide for complex, multi-stakeholder conservation problems, such as land management, forestry, and environmental cleanup. The process is designed to facilitate information exchange and to find common ground.
At the Rose Lake meeting, community members raised a number of questions and concerns and areas for further discussion: What are the early opportunities for community involvement in the cleanup? How do we know which cleanup options are on the table and which cleanup options are being eliminated? What agencies are responsible for flood control decision-making in the lower basin? What about new repositories? Are agencies looking at innovative cleanup technologies? What sorts of rules, regulations and standards apply to the cleanup? What can agencies other than EPA contribute to the cleanup?
In mid-November, the Basin Environmental Improvement Project Commission (BEIPC), which manages the cleanup, will decide whether to allow the new collaborative to be established under its organizational umbrella.
We think the BEIPC – itself a creature of Idaho state law that infused local representation and input into the federal Superfund process – should show strong support for the collaborative. Especially after the very encouraging meeting in Rose Lake.
The thoughtful ideas from local residents in the lower Coeur d’Alene basin should be encouraged and facilitated. Moreover, without early community involvement, alternatives may be narrowed, options eliminated, and opportunities lost. The collaboration establishes a venue and a process for meaningful engagement with the citizens who will live with the cleanup for years and will feel the impact most directly. This grassroots call for collaboration in the lower basin should be answered by the BEIPC Commissioners with a resounding yes.