OU-1 covered the “populated areas” of the box and OU-2 covered the “nonpopulated areas,” including the former smelter and industrial facility. Cleanup began in earnest after EPA issued the record of decision (ROD) for OU-1 in 1991 and for OU-2 in 1992. Although much of the area within the box has been cleaned up, remedial activities are still under way.
In February 1998, EPA announced that it would extend its Superfund remedial authorities outside the box. Until then, the agency had attempted to address contamination problems outside the box without invoking the formal Superfund process. The agency concluded, however, that the authorities it had been applying to address the widespread contamination and risks to human health and the environment posed by the mining-related wastes outside the box were insufficient (EPA 2004).
This action resulted in the addition of OU-3 that covers all the contaminated areas in the basin, Lake Coeur d’Alene, and the Spokane River, outside the original box. This controversial extension created a large degree of contention among residents within the basin, as many new communities were given the “Superfund” designation. Not surprisingly, many residents were concerned and angry over the designation of their community as a Superfund site and the perception that the designation and associated stigma would be long-lasting and further depress an economy already suffering severely from the loss of mining-related jobs. This fear was bolstered by the reality that the box has remained on the NPL since its listing in 1983, and the ROD for OU-3 established a 30-year “interim” remedial plan. Furthermore, confusion about the OU-3 site designation was magnified by the inexact nature of the site boundaries.3 This situation is understandably stressful and confusing for residents and landowners within the basin, as there is no straightforward mechanism to determine whether property is located within the Superfund site.
Cleaning up the Coeur d’Alene River basin is a major challenge for EPA’s Superfund program. The amount and wide distribution of waste materials preclude complete remediation with traditional cleanup approaches such as removal and capping. Large portions of the communities
The Superfund site is considered to be “all areas of the Coeur d’Alene Basin where mining contamination has come to be located.” Although areas where contamination does not exist are not included in the site, this designation has led to the widespread notion that the Superfund site encompassed the entire 1,500-square-mile watershed of the Coeur d’Alene River between the Montana border and the confluence of the Spokane River with the Columbia River (for discussion, see Villa 2003). This issue is addressed by EPA in the ROD, Part 3, Responsiveness Summary (EPA 2002), under: “General comment: Concerns about the boundaries of the Superfund site,” p. 2-4.