SEATTLE, WA, June 1, 2015 -- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Department of Justice, and Hecla Limited -- owner of the Lucky Friday Mine and Mill (LFMM), a deep underground silver, lead and zinc mine located in the Coeur d’Alene Mining District in northern Idaho -- have reached a settlement concerning water pollution violations near the headwaters of the South Fork Coeur d’Alene River. The river runs through the heart of North Idaho's "Silver Valley," ambitiously recovering from a century of mining pollution. Hecla will pay a $600,000 penalty as part of the settlement.
Hecla's violations, occurring between 2009 and 2014 at its LFMM, cover both effluent limit violations and unpermitted discharges to the SF Coeur d’Alene River and two of its tributaries. The company's Tailings Pond 3 was found seeping metals-laden water that it discharged into Harris Creek. During construction of Tailings Pond 4, Hecla failed to install adequate controls to ensure that stormwater runoff was properly managed, and soon turbid runoff destroyed a water intake at a downstream fish hatchery. In both cases, the company failed to properly report the event to EPA. In all, Agency inspections documented close to 500 combined (effluent limit, unpermitted and reporting) violations.
The South Fork Coeur d'Alene River is already severely compromised due to dissolved metals from historic mining activities. Major tributaries are devoid of aquatic life due to high concentrations of dissolved zinc and cadmium, while other areas only partially support fish and other aquatic species, offering migration routes but not spawning and rearing habitat. The LFMM operations are seen as the highest single contributor of metals to the South Fork above Mullan. The mine's NPDES permit limits were developed to ensure that operation discharges protect local fish and other aquatic life in the river and its tributaries.