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Natural Resource Damage Assessment: Methods and Cases

Natural Resource Damage Assessment: Methods and Cases

E. Blackbird Mine CERCLA

E. Blackbird Mine CERCLA Site Site: Blackbird Mine consists of more than 10,000 acres of mining claims in Salmon National Forest, which is in east central Idaho, 20 miles west of the town of Salmon, Idaho. There are mine tunnels, waste rock piles, and a 10.5 acre open pit at the headwaters of Bucktail and Meadow Creeks, which drain into Big Deer and Blackbird Creeks, which in turn drain into Panther Creek, a major tributary of the Salmon River. Cobalt and copper mining began at the site in the late 19 th century and mining activity peaked in the 1940s and 1950s. By 1982, the current owner, the Noranda Mining Company, had ceased operations. Release: Copper, cobalt, arsenic, and other hazardous materials have leached out of the mine tunnels and waste rock piles and into the watershed. Surface water and sediment in the creeks contain high levels of these contaminants. Injury: There has been no accurate measure of the quantities of contaminants due to the protracted nature of the release. However, the hazardous substances leached into the waters of Panther Creek and into the surrounding watershed, contaminating surface water and sediments in the creeks. Panther Creek had historically supported substantial runs of Chinook salmon. By the early 1960s, these fish had been completely eliminated from Panther Creek by contamination from the Blackbird Mine. The sockeye and Chinook salmon and the Steelhead and Bull trout downstream in the Salmon River are threatened by the poor water quality. The populations of other species of fish have also been reduced. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game found that the population density of rainbow trout in Panther Creek upstream from the mining influence were 35 to 50 times higher than in the part of that stream most directly affected by the mine. Attachment of Liability: NRDs are permitted under both CERCLA and CWA because of the “release” or “discharge” of a hazardous substance into the waters of the adjoining shorelines of the United States or into a contiguous zone of the United States. Trustees: • State of Idaho • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration • U.S. Forest Service Potentially Responsible Parties: • Noranda Mining, Inc. and Noranda Exploration, Inc., the current owner of the site • M.A. Hanna Company and Hanna Services Company, a former owner of the site • Alumet Corporation, a former owner of the site • Blackbird Mining Company Limited Partnership Damages: The reduction of fish populations entails some injury in the form of lost ecosystem services. There are also damages due to the recreational activity surrounding Panther 101

Creek and the cultural importance of Panther Creek fish to certain Native American tribes. Damages were determined using a compensatory restoration approach. The service-toservice scaling methodology used in this case calculates the size of the compensatory restoration project necessary to ensure that the present discounted quantity of replacement services is equal to the present discounted quantity of services lost during the time between the beginning of the injury and the accomplishment of primary restoration. The key to this approach is that it equates quantities, rather than values, of services lost and restored. In the damage assessment and in the settlement, primary and compensatory restoration activities were assumed to be conducted concurrently, since that approach was deemed to be cost-effective. It was also assumed that water quality would return to baseline conditions in 2005 as a result of remediation conducted under the auspices of the U. S. EPA. The trustees established a baseline by determining that, but for the contamination, there would have been a population of 200 adult Chinook salmon spawning in Panther Creek each year. The trustees selected the Chinook salmon population as the baseline measure for all the environmental services lost because of the contamination, on the assumption that salmon vitality is a good measure of the overall health of the habitat. This assumption makes sense because the conditions necessary for salmon vitality also support the other fish and streambed resources that the mine damaged. The baseline was used to identify actions that would return the salmon population to baseline and compensate for losses due to reduced fish populations between 1980 and the date when fish populations were restored to the baseline. Using a salmon life-cycle model, the trustees estimated that if salmon recovery efforts began in 2005, baseline populations would be restored in 2021. However, in order to compensate for interim losses, salmon populations need then to be restored to levels exceeding the baseline. The trustees calculated the present value of the total number of salmon years lost since 1980, which is 200 (baseline number) times 15 years times 3% per year, and equated that to the present value of a certain number of salmon years above the baseline over the life of the restoration project. The responsible parties therefore were required to provide that extra amount of restored salmon years to compensate for the salmon years that they destroyed. Settlement: The PRPs agreed to: • Clean up the mine site and restore water quality according to a cleanup program selected by the EPA • Implement a Biological Restoration and Compensation Plan (BRCP) to restore, enhance, and create anadromous and resident salmonid habitat in site-impacted and outof-basin streams • Put $2.5 million in a fund for hatchery operation • Pay $1-2 million for trustee oversight costs associated with the BRCP • Pay government agencies $328,742 for past response costs associated with the site • Pay $4.7 million for reimbursement of damage assessment costs Restoration activities in Panther Creek are being designed to improve water quality; 102

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