The Colville Tribes will receive the Sierra Club’s “Watershed Hero Award” in special ceremonies Saturday, Feb. 23, in Spokane.
The award is for the Tribes’ cleanup efforts in the upper Columbia River of hazardous wastes deposited by slag from Teck Metals, LTD, a mining company in British Columbia.
Slag deposits contain mercury, cadmium, zinc, copper, arsenic and lead.
Teck, in 2012, admitted that its Trail, B.C., smelter had disposed of 9.7 million tons of contaminants into the Columbia River system. Officials of Teck acknowledged that it had been treating Lake Roosevelt as a “free” convenient disposal system for its wastes.
A decision issued on Dec. 14, 2012, found Teck liable under the Superfund law (CERCLA) for its actions.
John Osborn, of the Sierra Club, said the club would also award its first Environmental Justice Award to former Quincy mayor Patty Martin, for her work to protect public health at risk from an influx of data centers.
“If it wasn’t for the Colville Tribes there wouldn’t be any cleanup of the Columbia River system,” Osborn said Monday in a press release. “Because they are a sovereign nation, they could accomplish the cleanup agreement where no private organization could.”
Tribal Chairman John Sirois stated: “It’s time for Teck to finally be held accountable for its actions. We are hopeful this decision will benefit future generations — not just Tribal members but everyone who uses the Columbia River. It will present a clearer path for the United States to deal with the remediation of the Columbia River under U.S. law and the Tribes, as a sovereign entity, will participate in the process to thoroughly investigate and clean up the river system.”
The Colville Tribes joined the lawsuit with the state of Washington in 2005.
The Columbia River system has been the ancestral home of the 12 tribes of the Colvilles, Osborn pointed out, and their endurance in pursuit of Teck is the reason for Saturday’s award.
Cleanup of the Columbia River system is estimated at $1 billion.