Otter letter critical of EPA

Governor says upper basin plan can't go forward

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COEUR d'ALENE - In a letter on Monday, Gov. Butch Otter criticized the EPA's proposed Record of Decision amendment for the Upper Basin, and said a successful cleanup in the Silver Valley "is impossible without a healthy community and a strong local economy."

"In my view, the proposed ROD amendment must not go forward unless the EPA commits that cleanup work will not impede existing or future mining," Otter wrote. "Moreover, the proposed ROD is not acceptable unless the EPA identifies and commits to reasonable and achievable endpoints."

Dan Opalski, EPA director of environmental cleanup in Seattle, agreed with the governor on one point.

"We share Governor Otter's belief that a truly successful cleanup in the Silver Valley is impossible without a healthy community and strong local economy," Opalski wrote.

Otter said the cleanup cannot go on forever, and the work must have a defined and limited time period.

Otter has heard from legislators, local officials and Silver Valley residents, he wrote, and he believes that the ROD amendment - a plan he called "overreaching and hugely expansive" - should focus on human-health cleanup work and support the local economy.

The governor sharply criticized the water treatment provisions of the proposed ROD, calling them "an open ended plan to wildly spend public resources and perform work that is of questionable value."

The EPA has proposed water collection and treatment work, he wrote, before significant source control has been completed.

"We don't know how technology conditions will change over the course of the next decade, let alone the next century," Otter wrote, adding that the EPA should concentrate on cleaning up contaminant source areas to improve water quality.

Otter said the agency must "learn to live within the people's means."

"It is critical for the EPA to commit to cash flow and management of the settlement funds to ensure necessary operation and maintenance funds will be available well into the future," Otter wrote.

Otter outlined parts of the ROD amendment he does support, including the completion of water runoff control projects in local drainages and side gulches - an effort that will protect past human health cleanup work, he explained.

He also supports the use of local workers, he wrote, which has helped create jobs in the past.

The governor urged Idaho residents to educate themselves about the proposal and submit comments to the EPA. Comments can be sent to the Coeur d'Alene Basin Team, EPA, ECL-113 - 1200 Sixth Ave., Suite 900, Seattle, WA 98101. Input can also be e-mailed to

Opalski said the EPA will take note of any comments, public or otherwise.

"We will be reviewing and considering all comments, including the governor's," he wrote, "as we work in partnership with the state of Idaho to adopt the best cleanup plan for the future of the Coeur d'Alene Basin."

All comments must be submitted to the EPA by Nov. 23.

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