Historic pollution from the Trail smelter, the Columbia River, and an in-progress lawsuit filed by Colville tribes versus the mining giant Teck Resources was at the centre of an agreement in an American courtroom earlier this month.
On Aug. 6, Teck Resources agreed to pay another $1.6 million to confederated tribes south of the border to cover their legal costs associated with ongoing litigation related to pollutants the Trail plant dumped into the river from early industry days up until 1995.
There has been only one ruling in the case to date, and it holds Teck Metals Ltd. (TML) liable for response costs amassed by the plaintiffs – the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation – during these years-long legal proceedings.
“Because the remedial investigation/feasibility study and the litigation are ongoing, the plaintiffs continue to incur costs,” explained Chris Stannell, Teck spokesperson.
“TML is paying those costs as they are incurred … this $1.6-million payment represents further response costs incurred by the tribal plaintiffs covering the period from Jan. 1, 2014 to Dec. 31, 2019,” he said.
“The litigation is ongoing, and is not expected to conclude before 2023 at the earliest.”
The Aug. 6 settlement agreement comes almost four years to the day since a Washington federal judge awarded the tribes more than $8.25 million from Teck under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) for costs relating to the pollution that contained heavy metals such as lead and arsenic.
“We have consistently said that if there are real risks to human health or the environment associated with historical emissions from Trail Operations, either in Canada or in the U.S., Teck will take appropriate steps to address them,” Stannell told the Times.
“We have spent over US$125 million to date on studies of the Upper Columbia River in the United States to determine if there are real risks to human health or the environment, and the results to date indicate that the water is clean, the fish are as safe to eat as fish in other waterbodies in Washington State, and the beaches are safe for recreation – other than those affected by contamination not associated with Teck.”
Senior U.S. District Judge Lonny Suko previously awarded the tribes $8.25 million - $4.9 million stemming from litigation and $3.4 million from expenses related to water investigative studies - incurred through the end of 2013, along with prejudgment interest.
Teck appealed Suko’s Aug. 2016 ruling, though it was upheld by the U.S. Ninth Circuit two years later.
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The Trail smelter has been operating on the banks of the Columbia River since 1896, 10 miles north of the Canada-United States border.
The company has acknowledged in court that, between 1930 and 1995, the plant intentionally discharged nearly 10 million tons of slag and effluent directly into the Columbia River from its mining and fertilizer operations in Trail.
The tribes sued Teck in July 2004 to recover costs to deal with the pollution. Shortly thereafter, Washington state intervened as a plaintiff.
In June 2006, Teck signed a settlement agreement with the U.S. EPA stating, the company is voluntarily funding and conducting a remedial investigation and feasibility study to evaluate the nature and the extent of contamination; determine if unacceptable risk to human health or the environment exists as a result of any contamination; and determine whether action is required to mitigate any unacceptable risk.
At that time, the company agreed to provide over $1 million per year to the Colville and Spokane Tribes, Washington State and the Department of the Interior to for their participation and review on an ongoing basis.