The public has an opportunity to comment on a proposed settlement agreement after the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality alleged U.S. Silver, Inc., violated the Clean Water Act at Galena Mine by discharging pollutants into Lake Creek near the city of Wallace.
Galena Mine is located about three miles from Wallace and produces silver, copper and lead concentrates.
The Galena Mine complex discharges wastewater into Lake Creek and the South Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River, which empties into Lake Coeur d’Alene, according to court documents.
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The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality filed a complaint in March against U.S. Silver over the alleged violations in Shoshone County.
The complaint and other court documents make several allegations, including:
- U.S. Silver submitted samples and reports showing it allegedly exceeded the daily maximum or monthly average limitations for arsenic, lead, zinc, copper and pH levels 40 times between March 2021 and March 2023.
- U.S. Silver allegedly submitted reports that contained at least one invalid, unrepresentative or erroneous piece of sampling information in 12 of its required monitoring reports over a two year period.
- U.S. Silver allegedly filed multiple required documents, including an effluent waste monitoring plan and a preliminary engineering report, several months after both documents were due. The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality alleged failing to submit the documents in a timely manner violates the conditions of U.S. Silver’s permit.
DEQ: Mine expected to continue to exceed arsenic waste limitations until water treatment plant can be built
Court documents also indicate the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality believes U.S. Silver will continue to exceed arsenic waste discharge limitations until it can build a new water treatment plant at the mine.
“The effluent exceedances are expected to continue as the defendant’s treatment system cannot reliably meet the arsenic and lead limits,” the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality alleged in the March complaint.
Officials with both sides signed a consent judgment document agreeing to a settlement in early May. As part of the agreement, U.S. Silver agreed to waive all objections and defenses to the complaint.
The consent judgment set out a schedule for U.S. Silver to come into compliance with arsenic limitations by designing and constructing a new water treatment plant. The agreement also calls for U.S. Silver to submit accurate sample data and pollutant concentration reports, update and submit a quality assurance plan and comply with the limitations for the discharge of other pollutants
The compliance schedule calls for U.S. Silver to achieve compliance with arsenic limitations by 2030 by designing, constructing and commissioning the new water treatment plant.
Separately from action taken by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, the Idaho Conservation League has also sued U.S. Silver in federal court for alleged violations of the Clean Water Act, Bloomberg Law reported. The Idaho Conservation League alleged U.S. Silver committed more than 1,200 separate violations.
How to leave a public comment about the alleged violations from Galena Mine in Idaho
The public comment period runs through June 16. Members of the public may view the complaint and consent judgment online and leave a comment via the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality’s website.
Mary Anne Nelson, Surface and Wastewater Division administrator for the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, told the Idaho Capital Sun the public comment period allows people to share what they think about the action the department is taking. After the public comment period ends, the courts will issue a final consent judgment, Nelson said.
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“Any time we take an action that has an impact, whether the impact is to a municipality or individual or industry, we want to make sure the public is informed that we are taking the action,” Nelson said in a telephone interview.
“It is important that the public has the ability to be a part of the process,” Nelson added.
Reached for comment on Tuesday, U.S. Silver’s Boise-based attorney Kevin Beaton told the Sun that U.S. Silver wants to respect the public comment process and wait until it is finalized before discussing the complaint or agreement with the news media.
As part of the consent judgment agreement, U.S. Silver agreed to pay fines of $222,320 for past and continuing violations. The fines are due to be paid to the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality within 90 days of the consent judgment being entered by the court. The money will go into the state of Idaho’s general fund, Nelson said.
The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality brought the complaint after recently taking over permitting and compliance for the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System in Idaho from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (the program is now referred to as the Idaho Pollutant Discharge Elimination System).
U.S. Silver originally received a permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that allows it to discharge pollutants in accordance with the limitations and monitoring requirements set forth in the permit, court documents indicate. The alleged violations stem from exceeding those limitations and other alleged violations of the conditions included in that permit.