Hecla Mining Co., the biggest U.S. silver producer, agreed to pay more than $263 million to settle one of the nation’s largest Superfund lawsuits after two decades, according to the Obama administration.
Hecla’s payment, including interest, will be made to the federal government, the Coeur d’Alene Indian Tribe and the state of Idaho, resolving claims stemming from waste discharged from its mining operations, the U.S. Justice Department said today in an e-mailed statement.
The lawsuit, brought by the American Indian tribe in 1991 and joined by the U.S. five years later, sought money to deal with water and wildlife damage in northern Idaho. The case was one of the biggest pursued under the Superfund law, which seeks to make polluters pay for eliminating environmental hazards.
“This agreement will help pay for the U.S. government’s clean-up activities, secures natural resource damages and will restore critical habitats to fish and wildlife in the Coeur d’Alene River Basin,” Ignacia Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, said in a statement.
Melanie Hennessey, a spokeswoman for Coeur D’Alene-based Hecla, declined to comment.
The Superfund site, known as Bunker Hill, is among the biggest and most contaminated in the U.S., according to the Justice Department. The region, once one of the world’s largest silver-producing districts, was harmed by the release of metals such as lead and arsenic, according to the department.
While the Environmental Protection Agency began cleaning up the site in the 1980s, the area remains contaminated, according to the administration.
“This settlement means cleanup and mining can now move forward together in the Silver Valley,” Dennis McLerran, EPA regional administrator in Seattle, said in a statement.
The consent decree was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho and is subject to 30 days of public comment and approval by the federal court, according to the Justice Department.
Hecla fell 16 cents, or 2.2 percent, to $7.22 at 3:11 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The stock has slumped 34 percent this year through June 10.