Teck Metals was in U.S. high court this month, appealing a Washington State ruling that the company pay $8.25 million to the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.
In August 2016 U.S. District Court Judge Lonny Suko found in favour of the aboriginal group for costs incurred from its lawsuit with Teck over historical pollution in the Columbia River. Of the money awarded, $4.9 million stemmed from litigation and $3.4 million from expenses related to investigative studies of the water.
Teck appealed Suko’s ruling to the federal Ninth Circuit Court, which has appellate jurisdiction over district courts. A decision is expected later this year.
Teck declined to comment on the Feb. 5 appearance to the Trail Times.
“We can’t comment on the specifics of the court case while it is in progress,” spokesperson Chris Stannell, replied via email.
Instead, he noted that Teck has spent in excess of US$85 million on the Upper Columbia since signing a settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 12 years ago.
“On a remedial investigation and feasibility study intended to identify whether historic disposal practices at Trail have caused unacceptable risks to human health or the environment,” Stannell continued.
“To date, these studies are showing in general that the water in the Columbia River is clean, fish are as safe to eat as fish from other water bodies in Washington State, and beaches are safe for recreational activities.”
Stannell added, “We are committed to completing the remedial investigation study to fully assess any potential risks due to contaminants and, if necessary, take action to address them.”
The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation (CCT) issued a news release following the hearing.
“In this appeal Teck continues to contest the U.S. courts’ jurisdiction over it,” the CCT stated. “As well as arguing that it should not be required to pay district court’s $8.25 million award to the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation for costs incurred proving its liability, Teck continues to argue that it should only be responsible for a small portion of the contamination in the Upper Columbia River and Lake Roosevelt.”
The group states, “The trial court’s rulings were the result of more than a decade of vigorous litigation by the CCT and the State of Washington against Teck based on its disposal in the Columbia River of 9.97 million tons of slag and effluent for almost 100 years.”
In the release, CCT Chairman Dr. Michael Marchand, who attended the hearing in Seattle, stated “the Tribes and States presented compelling arguments against Teck and he looked forward to a ruling in favor of the Confederated Tribes and State of Washington.”
The Trail smelter has been operating on the banks of the Columbia River since 1896, 10 miles north of the Canada-United States border.
Permitted discharge of granulated slag into the Columbia River ceased in 1995 and present permitted discharges are lower than natural metal loads carried by the river, the company states.
Since the late 1970s, Teck has invested approximately $1.5 billion to improve the operation’s environmental performance, and maintains, “water quality in the Columbia River at the international border meets or exceeds stringent regulatory levels in either B.C. or the U.S.”
On June 2, 2006, Teck signed a Settlement Agreement with the U.S. EPA stating, the company is voluntarily funding and conducting a Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study to evaluate the nature and the extent of contamination; determine if unacceptable risk to human health or the environment exists as a result of any contamination; and determine whether action is required to mitigate any unacceptable risk.
In the event that action is required, the company agreed to provide over $1-million per year to the Colville and Spokane Tribes, Washington State and the Department of the Interior to provide for their participation and review on an ongoing basis.
Related story: Trail Times