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Lucky Friday Mine's issued new wastewater discharge permit

Release Date: 8/15/2003
Contact Information: Randy Smith
(206) 553-1261

August 13, 2003

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) yesterday issued a new wastewater discharge permit for the Hecla Mining Company’s Lucky Friday Mine located near Mullan, Idaho. The permit is the first update of Clean Water Act requirements for the Lucky Friday Mine in more than 25 years. The permit requires Hecla to dramatically reduce its discharges of lead, zinc, and cadmium to the South Fork Coeur d'Alene River.

Under the federal Clean Water Act’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), permits are required for all “point” sources that discharge pollutants into waters of the United States. The last permit for the Lucky Friday operation was issued in 1977 and, according to Randy Smith, Director of the Office of Water for the EPA's office in Seattle, the new permit is a major step forward in protecting Idaho's water quality.

“This permit sets much stricter limits for metals discharges, limits that will better protect water quality in the South Fork Coeur d'Alene River,” Smith said.

“But this is not a one-size fits all permit,” continued Smith. “The permit is based on Idaho’s new site-specific criteria for the South Fork, which show that water quality can be protected with less stringent limits on lead and zinc. We’ve made some other changes from the draft permit to trim the costs facing the company, while still providing much improved environmental protection for the South Fork. The limits in this permit can be met with conventional technologies in widespread use in the mining industry.

“Hecla will need to reduce their metals discharges considerably, but their task is a manageable one,” continued Smith. “It’s a tough balancing act, but we think we’ve nailed it.”

The permit requires the concentration of cadmium in the mine’s discharges to be reduced by 30 percent, lead by roughly 80 percent, and zinc by roughly 60 percent.

The new permit will become effective 33 days after the issuance date unless a request for an appeal is filed with the EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board.

Idaho Allows Five Years to Meet Limits

Under section 401 of the Clean Water Act, the state of Idaho must certify that the new permit complies with the state’s established water quality standards. The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality’s certification of the permit authorizes a compliance schedule that allows Lucky Friday up to five years to meet the new metals limits in the permit.

Hecla Seeks Variance on Limits

In a related action, the EPA is reviewing Hecla's latest request for a variance from the cadmium, lead, mercury, and zinc water quality standards that are the basis for their permit limits. Hecla has asked for a variance primarily on the grounds that they cannot afford to meet certain requirements. EPA is reviewing the information submitted by Hecla last month. If a variance is approved, Hecla would get relief from certain requirements in their new permit.

Any proposed variance and permit modification would be subject to public comment. This review process is expected to take a few months.

Response to Public Comments and Final Permit Available

Drafts of the Lucky Friday permit went through two comment periods in 2001 and earlier this year. EPA has prepared a Response to Comments document that responds to all comments and documents the changes from the previous (January 2003) draft of the permit to the final permit. The final permit and Response to Comments are sent to the mailing list including everyone who submitted comments in writing or at the public hearings on the draft permits.

Anyone interested in receiving a copy of the final permit and/or Response to Comments document should contact:

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 10
1200 Sixth Avenue, OW-130
Seattle, Washington 98101
(206) 553-0523 or 1-800-424-4372 (AK, ID, OR and WA)

The permit and Response to Comments document can also be found by visiting the Region 10 website at

Other NPDES Permits On the Horizon in the Silver Valley

The EPA expects to reissue NPDES permits for the Coeur/Galena Mines and the Page, Smelterville, and Mullan municipal wastewater treatment plants this winter, once they have completed the review of public comments received earlier.