In Brief

by Cara Gardner

Can't Bear It -- SANDPOINT, Idaho -- A proposed mine in the Cabinet Mountains of Western Montana faces yet another challenge as conservation groups, represented by Earthjustice Action League, filed suit, challenging the federal approval of the Rock Creek Mine, which, they argue, would wipe out the bull trout and grizzly bear populations of that area.

Earthjustice filed suit after the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) released its official opinion, in 2001, that the mine would jeopardize grizzly bears, but that the damage could be mitigated. FWS later withdrew its opinion and the suit was dropped.

"What has happened since then is the FWS went back and issued a new opinion on May 13, 2003," says Mary Mitchell, executive director of the Rock Creek Alliance, a Sandpoint grassroots organization aimed at stopping the mine. "We filed suit [again]."

Sterling Mining Company, based in Veradale, Wash., has been working to gain approvals for the Rock Creek Mine since 1999. The mine would remove 10,000 tons of copper and silver ore per day from under the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness Area for 35 years. Conservations groups say the 7,000 acres of habitat that would be lost would kill off the few remaining grizzlies in the area. They are equally concerned about threats to the bull trout population, which would be affected by the mine's three million gallons of wastewater, dumped each day into the Clark Fork River and also potentially polluting Lake Pend Orielle.

"I feel we have a very solid case," says Mitchell. "[FWS officials] talk about how important it is to keep all these subpopulations intact, but then they turn around and say it doesn't matter."

Playing Favorites? -- SPOKANE -- The Environmental Protection Agency is allocating $49 million to start the cleanup of 11 Superfund sites across the nation, including the Coeur d'Alene Basin site. But 10 other hazardous waste sites have been omitted from the EPA's plans. Contaminated sites along the Spokane River are not funded for cleanup.

The Bunker Hill Mining and Metallurgical Site has polluted the Coeur d'Alene basin and the Spokane River from the 19th century on to the 1970s, according to the EPA. The EPA's choice not to fund the cleanup of the Spokane River has infuriated Senator Patty Murray.

"It is outrageous that EPA is going to fund cleanup for the same project on the Idaho side of the border, but ignore the Washington sites," Murray said in a statement. "EPA... declared that the Washington sites 'have been identified for cleanup on the basis of potential human and ecological risk.'"

"There is a national prioritization of Superfund sites," says Angela Chung, a Superfund project manager for the Coeur d'Alene basin. "Because of the limitation on the Superfund account, [the EPA] looked at the types of risks, the contamination levels and a number of factors."

Chung explains that the pollution in Idaho is worse and impacts more recreational areas.

Crime Time -- SPOKANE -- Crime in Spokane County is down in five out of seven categories, according to a report created for the FBI by the Spokane Police Department.

Homicides are down by 50 percent in the City of Spokane. Five homicides have been reported since the beginning of the year, compared with 10 at this time in 2002. Robberies are lower by 10 percent, from 191 last year to 171 currently. Aggravated assault reports are down by 18 percent, rapes are lower by three percent and motor vehicle thefts are down 15 percent. The city submits these statistics to the FBI, which tracks crime nationwide.

But Cpl. Dave Reagan of the Spokane County Sheriff's Office says these numbers don't tell the whole story. "[The FBI] formula for reporting the seven major categories is that you report the most serious offense in any given incident. If someone broke into your home, stole your TV, raped your daughter and then murdered your husband on the way out, that would only count as a homicide in this report," Reagan explains.

Because the statistics are misleading for the community, Reagan says, the Sheriff's Department is "in the process of redefining" their systems to relay crime statistics more accurately.

"We want to be sure we're telling the people who live here that we're giving them the clearest picture we can," says Reagan.

Reagan explains that the numbers produced by the City of Spokane do correctly portray the region's overall crime trend, however.

"Every indication is that crime is down in Spokane County," Reagan says.

Publication date: 07/24/03