Ponderay wins grant for Black Rock cleanup

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  • (Photo courtesy IDEQ) This photo taken by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality shows the base of the slag dump known as Black Rock eroding.

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    (Courtesy photo) The Panhandle Smelting & Refining Co. in its heyday in the early 1900s.

  • (Photo courtesy IDEQ) This photo taken by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality shows the base of the slag dump known as Black Rock eroding.

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    (Courtesy photo) The Panhandle Smelting & Refining Co. in its heyday in the early 1900s.

PONDERAY — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is awarding the city a federal grant to tackle the slag heap on the Pend d’Oreille Bay Trail.

The agency announced on Wednesday it is awarding the city an $800,000 multipurpose brownfields grant to conduct environmental site assessments and cleanup of the Panhandle Smelting & Refining Co. site on Lake Pend Oreille. The site is perhaps known as Black Rock because of the distinct mound of slag, the glass-like byproduct of the smelting processes dating back to the early 1900s.

“It’s a huge amount of funding for full remediation,” said Erik Brubaker, the city’s land-use planner.

The site consists of ruins of the smelter, a pile of unprocessed ore and a large slag dump that extends into the lake, according to Idaho Department of Environmental Quality records.

The grant award is among 150 grants totaling $64 million in EPA brownfields funding in the Inland and Pacific Northwest. A brownfields property is a parcel for which expansion, redevelopment or reuse is hampered because of hazardous pollutants or contamination.

“The most concerning is lead,” said Brubaker.

Brubaker said a staggering amount of research has already been done to quantify contamination levels by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, which likely factored the grant’s approval.

A preliminary assessment of the site was conducted by IDEQ in 2005 and led to a $650,000 grant under the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act in 2007. That grant — awarded to Ponderay, Kootenai, Sandpoint and Bonner County — funded a more stringent analysis of properties along the shoreline, including Black Rock.

“Idaho DEQ and Steve Gill really led an impressive assessment project from the last grant we got,” said Brubaker.

Brubaker said the extent of the cleanup depends on whether the property will be restored to its natural state or developed further. Brubaker said the timing of the work depends on the extent of the cleanup.

“It’s a complex site,” Gill, IDEQ’s brownfields analyst for the 10 northern counties, said of Black Rock.

The Friends of Pend d’Oreille Bay Trial were thrilled by the brownfields grant award.

“I understand those grants were very competitive, so this is huge for the city of Ponderay and means that now we can start looking at how to extend the trail further up along the shoreline,” said Susan Drumheller, president of the Friends of Pend d’Oreille Bay Trail.

Drumheller said the city is seeking a federal Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development grant for the design, engineering and construction of a pedestrian underpass that would allow public access to the shoreline.

“Having the EPA grant award creates critical momentum and will make the city’s application more competitive,” Drumheller said.

Keith Kinnaird can be reached by email at kkinnaird@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow him on Twitter @KeithDailyBee.

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