While the setting was downtown Coeur d'Alene, much of the focus of Thursday's Kootenai Environmental Alliance legislative candidate forum was on the Silver Valley.
The Environmental Protection Agency's cleanup plan for the Upper Basin of the Coeur d'Alene River was the dominant topic. And two candidates made it clear the EPA's 90-year, $1.3 billion proposal is not welcome."I would like for our state to tell the federal government that we can handle it and we want the EPA out of the Silver Valley," said Kathy Sims, a Republican seeking the District 4B seat in the state house.
Both Sims and fellow forum participant Bob Nonini, the District 5A incumbent, attended a public comment session in Kellogg this summer where many residents questioned the EPA plan.An extension for public comments on the plan was granted through Nov. 23, but Nonini would like even more time so the Idaho state Legislature can take a stand on the issue this spring.
Nonini, a native of Wallace, said he understands the need to rectify decades of mining waste, noting that as a child, he and his brother always referred to the south fork of the Coeur d'Alene River as "lead creek.""The Silver Valley has been cleaned up a lot since then. I'm adamantly opposed to a 2,000-page addition to that (clean up) plan," he added.
Four other state Legislature candidates attended the forum - Marge Chadderdon and Mike Bullard, both seeking the District 4A seat; Paula Marano, seeking the 4B seat; and David Larsen, seeking the 5A seat.Marano, a Democrat, said while the EPA plan may be flawed, its goal of protecting wildlife, public lands and water quality is important. She agreed that an extended comment period and further study are needed to make sure costs to the state and local communities are considered.
While Bullard did not take a stance on the EPA plan itself, he said better monitoring of water quality by the state would help Idaho communities avoid federal intervention."We keep hearing that Idaho doesn't have the money for the environment, for the schools ... we're passing on these problems to our children," added Bullard, a Democrat. He said the state could do a better job of closing loopholes and collecting taxes that are due to provide funding for monitoring water quality of rivers and lakes.
Better planning of development and more education on how individual actions can affect water quality are an important part of protecting the environment, Larsen said."We have to have cities take a look and see if they have the water to support annexation, and if they have the septic or sewer system capacity to add these new developments," he added.
Larsen also noted his involvement in the grass-roots effort to maintain a no-wake zone in Lake Coeur d'Alene's Cougar Bay.Chadderdon pointed out two past examples of different groups working together for the good of the environment: the city of Coeur d'Alene's inclusion of Fernan Lake homes in an expanded wastewater treatment system, and the efforts of Nonini and others to create Rathdrum Aquifer protection district for the region.
She said such cooperative efforts are important as the state deals with budget shortfalls that limit its role in environmental initiatives.