Superfund cleanup isn’t limited to the Silver Valley. The Coeur d’Alene River, the chain lakes and wetlands from Cataldo to Harrison are contaminated with heavy metals from the last century of mining upstream. Every flood season, another layer of contamination is deposited throughout the drainage.

The EPA, charged with the cleanup responsibilities, is in the process of finalizing a controversial plan for the upper basin, but the next area slated for cleanup is the lower Coeur d’Alene River basin from Cataldo to Harrison.  In fact, EPA has begun initial studies on the ways contaminated sediment moves in the Coeur d’Alene River and lower basin waterways and wetlands. Based on the scientific and engineering studies, and as constrained by Superfund laws, EPA will develop a comprehensive cleanup plan for the lower basin over the course of the next several years.

KEA has been part of a small group meeting since May 2010 to develop a better way for citizens, stakeholders, and agencies to work together on cleanup in the Lower Basin.  We’ve created the Lower Basin Citizen Collaborative.

Why a Collaborative?

In a lower basin cleanup, there will be a wide range of interests and values to be weighed and considered: public health, wildlife protection, recreation, private property rights and land-use planning, watershed protection and restoration, cultural resources, job preservation and creation, economic development, and water quality and fisheries.  All of these will need to be weighed in a context that should include sufficient public education, meaningful public involvement, and science-based and evidence-based decision making by the agencies.

Collaboratives provide a way to address controversial natural resource issues, making sure everyone has a seat at the table. In many locations in the U.S., they are achieving broad citizen, stakeholder, and agency satisfaction. This collaborative model is currently used in Shoshone County and elsewhere in Idaho for forest and land management and collaboratives are now being used or proposed in other parts of the country for land management and complex environmental problems.

In our envisioning of the collaborative process for the lower basin, everyone is invited to engage early in the process. Competing interests work out consensus-based solutions together. Participants work for outcomes that meet or exceed federal and state regulations, and agencies shift their focus to connect with, rather than direct, the collaborative effort.  In theory, if stakeholders work together, cleanup decisions can be made with everyone’s interests considered. Rather than agency decisions being handed down unilaterally, collaboratives work toward outcomes that everyone feels they can live with.

Collaboratives can be controversial, they don’t always work, and they’re not always appropriate. However, this cleanup in the lower basin will be extremely complex and will have a significant impact on the landscape. In this instance, we believe local voices involved in the planning from the beginning will make for a better cleanup. And we believe a collaborative will be the best venue to engage the local voices.

Reaching Out

The Lower Basin Collaborative is ready to launch and we invite your participation. A kickoff meeting will be held next Tuesday, the 18th, 2:30 pm, at the Rose Lake Historical Society Building, 14917 S. Queen Street & Hwy. 3 in Cataldo.  If you want to know more or be involved at any level, let us hear from you. Write us at LowerBasinCollaborative@gmail.com.  Stay up to date at lowerbasincollaborative.wordpress.com.