State urges federal help with river


The Oregonian

SPOKANE, WA-- State regulators and a Native American tribe want the federal government to oversee a cleanup of heavy metals from Canada and other contaminants that have polluted Lake Roosevelt on the Columbia River.

In recent comments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Washington Department of Ecology says the EPA should take the lead because the pollution crosses the international border.

"Trying to delegate this work to Washington (state) is not an option," said Flora Goldstein, regional director of the department's toxic waste cleanup program.

The Ecology Department supports a Superfund designation for Lake Roosevelt -- the 130-mile long reservoir behind Grand Coulee Dam -- based on recent EPA findings, said Guy Gregory, senior hydrologist with the department's toxics cleanup program.

Gov. Gary Locke will review the department's recommendation.

The EPA was pushed into a Lake Roosevelt investigation by the Colville Tribes, which petitioned in 1999 for a study of the lake and 21 nearby mines.

Based on sediment samples in 2001, the lake from Inchelium to Canada qualifies for Superfund listing because of hazards to aquatic life from heavy metals, said Monica Tonel, the EPA's Lake Roosevelt site manager.

A recent EPA site inspection shows zinc levels near the Canadian border to be 60 times what's considered safe for aquatic life and fish.

New studies would address whether the pollution is dangerous to people and aquatic life, and how much of the lake is contaminated.

Whether the Lake Roosevelt site will be listed depends on decisions made in Washington, D.C., Tonel said. No date has been set for that decision.

The project has already caused international tensions.

In January, the Canadian government rejected the EPA's request to sample heavy metals near Teck Cominco Ltd.'s big lead and zinc smelter in Trail, B.C., saying there is "no framework in place" to deal with a Superfund investigation that reaches into Canada.

Rural Eastern Washington county commissioners and a U.S. subsidiary of Teck Cominco are calling for local control of a proposed cleanup.

Teck Cominco American Inc. is telling elected officials in job-starved north-central Washington that a big Superfund tab for lake cleanup might make it harder to operate the Pend Oreille Mine. The company plans to reopen the zinc mine in Metaline Falls by January 2004.

"We probably would go ahead. But that (cleanup) cost would become part of the equation," said David Godlewski, Teck Cominco's environmental and public affairs manager.

Commissioners of Ferry, Lincoln and Stevens counties announced this week in Spokane at the Lake Roosevelt Forum that they've formed a "responsible stewardship" group. They've asked Grant County to join.

The forum is a group formed by two tribes and several federal, state and local agencies responsible for the lake's management.

Local stakeholders should help determine whether the lake poses a human health risk, Stevens County Commission chairman Tony Delgado said.

"Superfund would put a stigma on the lake and would take too many years," Delgado said. That could drive off tourists, lower property values and dry up economic development, he said.

Congress created Superfund in 1980 to clean up industrial messes, forcing corporations to foot the bill for cleanups and pay taxes into a trust fund to cover sites where the responsible parties are bankrupt or defunct.


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