BOISE, Idaho (AP) — State environmental officials on Friday asked lawmakers to approve just over $3 million to deal with toxic discharge and a collapsing tunnel at an abandoned silver and lead mine in central Idaho.
The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality made the request to the Legislature’s powerful budget-setting committee. Lawmakers will make budget decisions in the coming months.
About $1 million of the agency’s request Friday is to study a roughly $3 million plan to stabilize the mine that had a collapse following the 6.5 magnitude earthquake in March.
Officials say water contaminated with arsenic, lead and other pollutants could build up in the mine and possibly burst through. There's also concern about spring water in the area being contaminated.
The resort towns of Ketchum and Sun Valley are about 7 miles (11 kilometers) to the northwest of the mine, as well as Sun Valley Resort’s Bald Mountain ski area. The towns and ski area are upstream of the mine pollution.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1993 proposed adding the mine to the national Superfund list to help with cleanup. But the stigma, possible damage to tourism and a drop in property values led local residents and officials in Blaine County, which relies heavily on tourism, to reject the idea.
The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality then took over responsibility for the mine in a deal with the EPA. Asarco Mining Co. filed for bankruptcy in 2015 and agreed to pay the Department of Environmental Quality $1.7 million to take care of cleanup at the mine.
The agency's request on Friday includes a $1.5 million transfer to a fund to pay for ongoing remediation work.
The agency also requested about $560,000 for remedial work following the settlement of a lawsuit filed by the Idaho Conservation League that argued the state was allowing pollution from the mine to reach a nearby stream.
Officials say two cement plugs have been put in the mine to try to prevent water from coming out, but a contractor is now recommending a third plug following the March earthquake.
The area covers about 60 acres (24 hectares) that include a mine tunnel and tailings, both leaking toxic waste. The EPA says the site’s 1 million cubic yards (765,000 cubic meters) of black sand leftover from the defunct mine constitutes a health hazard because it is laced with lead, arsenic and zinc. Water from the mine area has an orange tint.