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Colville Tribes awarded $8.3 million from Teck for legal costs


The US District Court for the District of Eastern Washington has ruled that Teck Metals Ltd. must pay nearly $8.3 million to the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation for all past costs related to the Tribes’ ongoing legal battle to force the Canadian smelter company to clean up mine waste pollutants it sent across the border for decades, the Tribes announced in a press release.

The Aug. 12 ruling by the Judge Lonny Suko is the most recent victory by the Tribes who, along with the state of Washington, successfully sued Teck to force the company to comply with the U.S. Superfund law.

The $8.3 million will cover the environmental investigation and legal response costs (attorney’s fees, expert witnesses, etc.) incurred since the legal fight began, and means Teck will also have to pay costs going forward. The total costs of the cleanup and the restoration of damaged natural resources have not been determined, but the Colvilles hope the ruling will mean actual cleanup can proceed more quickly.

For nearly a century, Teck’s smelter released slag and liquid effluent, a toxic byproduct of metals refining, directly into the Columbia River, and pumped toxins into the air that polluted Tribal and Washington state lands. More than 10 million tons of the granular slag created the “black sand” beaches of the Upper Columbia, a 150-mile reach of the river between the Canadian border and Grand Coulee Dam.

The river is the natural resource and cultural lifeblood of the Colville Tribes and must be protected and restored, the Tribes said.

Regulatory and legal processes will continue to guide the cleanup, but there can be no more delay in action, the Tribes said, noting that several efforts to reintroduce migrating fish in the Upper Columbia are moving forward.

“It is critical that the sediments in the Upper Columbia be cleaned up to ensure returning fish have the chance to thrive in a healthy river environment,” the tribal press release stated. “Only cleanup will create that opportunity.”

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