CALGARY — Vancouver-based Teck Resources says it's "disappointed" with a U.S. District Court ruling ordering it to pay US$8.25 million in legal costs, as part a long-running legal battle over environmental contamination in Washington State.
The company declined to say if it would appeal the latest ruling, but said it's "reviewing the implications with counsel."
The ruling filed earlier this month by U.S. District Court Judge Lonny Suko orders the company to cover the legal and investigation costs that the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation have spent trying to prove that Teck contaminated their waterways.
The same judge ruled in 2012 that Teck was liable for costs of cleaning up contamination in the Upper Columbia River. Suko said the company knew for decades that the grainy, heavy-metal-laden byproduct of its Trail, B.C., smelter was flowing 10 kilometres downriver into the U.S., and was likely to cause harm.
This latest ruling awards the Colville Tribes, representing 12 tribes in Washington State, US$4.86 million in legal costs and US$3.4 million in investigation and expert analysis, plus interest — with some costs going back as far as 1999 when members started appealing to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to investigate the contamination.
Final costs of any cleanup, estimated to be as high as $1 billion, have not been agreed to.
The Colville Tribes said in a statement that there shouldn't be any delay in the cleanup of the roughly nine-million tonnes of slag released between 1930 to 1995, which blackened the shores of the Upper Columbia River.
"The river is the natural resource and cultural lifeblood of the Colville Tribes and must be protected and restored," they said.
"It is critical that the sediments in the Upper Columbia be cleaned up to assure returning fish have the chance to thrive in a healthy river environment. Only cleanup will create that opportunity."
Teck spokesman Chris Stannell said in an email that the company and its affiliates have spent over $75 million studying the potential risks to human health and the environment on the river from historic operations at the smelter, as part of a settlement reached with the U.S. EPA.
He said that results to date show water quality is better than standards in both the U.S. and Canada, and fish are as safe to eat as those from any other water body in the state of Washington.
Last year the company completed cleaning up 14 residential properties that had soil contaminated with lead and arsenic. That agreement also called for Teck to clean up, at a later date, at least three Colville tribal allotments that showed high levels of contaminants.
Additionally, the company has invested $1.5 billion to modernize and optimize the Trail smelter. But it has still been the source of several major leaks in recent years, including 25,000 litres of lead refinery solution released into the ground in 2011 and a similar amount of chemical solution released into the Columbia River in 2014.
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