Sunday, January 20, 2008

$400 Million Taxpayer Financed Superfund Clean-up Effort and Tourism Dollars Revive Idaho Mining Town after 1981 Mine Closure

A Mining Town With a Bleak Past Starts to Blossom

DOUG GREENWELL and his wife, April, took a ski holiday to Jackson Hole, Wyo., five years ago with the idea of looking for a vacation home. She found it too cold. He found it too expensive.

Besides Jackson, the Greenwells, who are from Richland, Wash., had been considering several other upscale ski areas in the West, including Bend, Ore., and Sun Valley, Idaho. None satisfied. But Mr. Greenwell had been following the environmental cleanup under way in the north Idaho town of Kellogg, a mining community at the center of one of the country’s largest Superfund sites.

With the cleanup nearly done, the Greenwells saw potential for the mountain town to grow into a resort community built around the Silver Mountain ski area. In 2003, they paid $42,000 for a 100-year-old miner’s cabin a few blocks from the base of the gondola that carries skiers and snowboarders from the town to Silver Mountain’s slopes.

“Our thought was, ‘Can we get something very affordable, enjoy it and see some appreciation,’ ” Mr. Greenwell said. “And it’s worked out pretty well.”

The couple are part of a wave of outdoors-oriented second-home buyers who are making over the once woebegone Silver Valley, which straddles Idaho’s panhandle. Kellogg is reinventing itself, as buildings are being renovated and condos and lofts built. And those who have a second-home pioneer spirit are taking notice.

Born in the 1880s silver boom, the valley’s 14 communities — with names like Smelterville and Silverton — thrived for decades on the mineral wealth taken from the Bitterroot and Coeur d’Alene mountain ranges. Then in 1981 the Bunker Hill mine in Kellogg — known to locals as Uncle Bunker — closed. Some 2,100 jobs vanished. The population, which peaked at midcentury at more than 5,000, dropped below 3,000.

Two decades of hardship followed, during which the Environmental Protection Agency declared a 21-square-mile chunk of the valley a federal Superfund site because of mining and smelting waste. The E.P.A. has spent about $440 million on the cleanup. Yards have been scraped of tainted soil and replanted with grass.

Now, million-dollar condos are rising above rickety miners’ cottages on McKinley Avenue, the town’s main street. Just two blocks from Gondola Village, though, there still stands a mountain of mining waste as big as a city block.

Here is the full article.