Idaho's Sore Thumb
By PAUL KOBERSTEIN
COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho -- It's a fact of history that Congress once voted to sever Northern Idaho from the rest of the state and attach it to Washington, but President Grover Cleveland thought it was a bad idea and pocket-vetoed the law in 1887. The northern part of the state became the Idaho Panhandle, though it looks more like a thumb.
Make that a sore thumb. Before Cleveland took office in 1885, the waters of the Coeur d'Alene-Spokane River basin were already being poisoned by hard rock mining in the upper reaches of the basin, an area known as the Silver Valley. Though mining companies quit dumping toxic tailings into the river in 1968, their waste continues to poison the river to this day.
The mines' legacy has also poisoned children and adults, contaminated residential properties and open spaces, killed wildlife and defiled waters all the way to the Columbia River. In the 1970s, a smelter fire in Kellogg caused the highest measured levels of blood lead poisoning in U.S. history. Some of the highest toxic concentrations have been found along a former Union Pacific rail line now being converted into a controversial hiking and biking trail.
Hundreds of millions of tons of mining waste have been moved by flooding in the basin. Enormous quantities have landed at the bottom of Lake Coeur d'Alene or continued their journey through the lake and into the Spokane River at the lake's other end.
The Spokane River enters the Columbia above Grand Coulee Dam. In 1999, the Spokane discharged 400 tons of lead, cadmium and zinc into the Columbia, plus additional, unmeasured amounts of arsenic, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Wherever they come to rest, these metals poison sediments, fish and wildlife, and people.
To stop the pollution and correct the damage, last fall the Environmental Protection Agency proposed an interim $359 million Superfund cleanup plan (that could eventually grow to $1.5 billion), one of the largest environmental restoration projects ever, building on limited cleanup efforts that began in 1989. A final decision on a cleanup plan is due in late June.
Hijackers, terrorists and jack-booted feds
One might think the people of the Silver Valley would be celebrating the sizable benefits of a cleanup to public health and the environment. With the economy battered with poverty and high unemployment, people here would gain from many new jobs. A clean environment would make the basin a much healthier place to live and visit.
Yet widespread public support the cleanup is not only hard to find in northern Idaho, it is drowned out by shrill voices in opposition, especially those of two daily newspapers owned by one of Idaho's most famous industrialists, Duane Hagadone: the Shoshone News-Press in Kellogg, and the Coeur d'Alene Press in Coeur d'Alene.
People who dare speak out in favor of the cleanup are excoriated almost continually in the Shoshone News-Press. In news articles, editorials and letters to the editor, that newspaper has repeatedly published personal attacks and smears against environmentalists, often targeting Barbara Miller, executive director of the Silver Valley People's Action Coalition (SV PAC), as well as members of other media organizations and employees of the EPA. The Kellogg newspaper has even published "tongue in cheek" death threats against EPA employees and this reporter. While complaints of improper EPA actions may well be valid, and are the focus of an Ombudsman investigation, the Kellogg newspaper has compared EPA workers and their methods to hijackers, terrorists and jack-booted federal agents. Articles in the Coeur d'Alene Press are less antagonistic, yet often are written with an anti-EPA or anti-cleanup slant.
"Every ethical line has been crossed, said Bob Bostwick, a spokesman for the Coeur d'Alene Tribe and a former reporter for a Spokane television station, in reference particularly to articles in the Shoshone News-Press. "Some of these things are just absolutely shameful, stunningly shameful."
Over the last year the angry tone seems to have escalated while people in the community were trying to weigh various plans for cleaning up mining wastes under their feet. Charles Moss, director of the state of Idaho's cleanup team, said the "industrial strength" rhetoric has polarized decision-making. Others say the newspapers have gone to such lengths to discredit health risks that they may have discouraged people from seeking medical care needed for themselves or their children. People have almost come to blows after public meetings. Environmentalists have been yelled at on public streets and at school functions.
"It's insane what these people are getting away with," says Tina Paddock, a former Silver Valley resident who continues to advocate cleanup from her home in McMinnville, Ore. "Mothers are afraid to speak out on behalf of their kids. They are afraid to receive the treatment like Barbara Miller has endured. Their families still work or wish to work for the mines and they cannot risk it. I had one lady tell me she was afraid her husband would become violent. I hold the newspaper, in part, responsible for the licensing of this attitude."
Paddock charges that Hagadone's newspapers seem to be on a mission to "destroy the People's Action Coalition because of its assertion that the region is not cleaned up, and people's health is at risk. They want Miller shut down."
For Miller, the personal attacks are nothing new-she claims they have been going on since 1986. "These people lie about me personally and tell people to not support our work," Miller says. "It is a little difficult to go out and talk intelligently to people today about the pressing issues facing the need for further cleanup and health intervention. This community needs to heal. It doesn't need more opportunity to prolong violence and hatred and anger."
Miller, meanwhile, is not holding her breath for the appreciation she believes her organization deserves. "The work we've begun has improved the quality of life here to the point that people have never seen before," she says.
I'll bring the tar if you bring the feathers
On Jan. 30, 2001, Miller woke up to read these chilling words in a letter to the editor published in the Shoshone News-Press: "Neighbors and friends, I'll bring the tar paper if you will bring the feathers and we will have a wonderful time on these people (the Silver Valley People's Action Coalition), doing something that will be of some benefit to this valley in a positive way."
Duane Hagadone owns almost all the daily and weekly newspapers in northern Idaho, plus several radio and television stations, and the Coeur d'Alene Resort, left.
The news media in the Silver Valley is the one institution with a responsibility to protect and foster a free and open debate on just this kind of public issue. Instead, they have fostered a nasty tone that suppresses candor.
Hagadone, who also owns almost all the other daily and weekly newspapers in northern Idaho, plus several radio and television stations, has a financial stake in silencing cleanup advocates. Hagadone owns the Coeur d'Alene Resort, the county's biggest employer, and his other agendas include promoting expanded casino gambling on nearby tribal lands. His newspapers have expressed concern that too much attention on pollution and Superfund cleanup may drive tourists away.
Hagadone also has had a stake in the area's mining industry and may still. Until 1998, he was a director of the Coeur d'Alene Mining Corp., which owns properties in the Silver Valley and is on the hook for millions of dollars in Superfund cleanup costs. (Other companies on the hook include ASARCO and Hecla.) Back in the 1980s, Hagadone was a member of a partnership that purchased portions of the mining properties within the Bunker Hill Superfund site in Kellogg. The partnership, Bunker Limited Partnership, spent much of the late 1980s fighting efforts by the EPA to hold it responsible for cleanup costs, according to an Inspector General's report in 1990.
Cascadia Times attempted to reach Hagadone and editors of the two newspapers by telephone but was not successful.
In 1996 High Country News reported that Hagadone had used his newspapers to downplay the dangers about heavy-metals pollution in the area. Hagadone's newspapers have continued to dismiss those dangers, claiming in recent editorials that "no one in the past 20 years has been provably sickened by heavy metals in the Silver Valley." A search of Coeur d'Alene Press online archives over the last two years shows the paper's news columns have heavily reported information that backs up the editorial page viewpoint while all but ignoring other views.
For example, a 1,600-word article in the April 19, 2002, Coeur d'Alene Press dwelled on a California pediatrician's opinion that there's no validity to the EPA's claim that lead poisoning threatens Silver Valley children. The article quoted Edgar J. Schoen as saying, "A pediatrician who has been trained within the past 20 years has never seen a symptomatic case of lead poisoning." The article, written by David Bond, quoted at length the pediatrician's criticism of a 1979 study linking lead poisoning to brain damage in children.
Schoen also charged that the government squanders billions of dollars pursuing "a nonexistent problem" under the spell of a "lead mafia running on government grants." Schoen also claimed that the EPA bases its assumptions about childhood lead poisoning on "controversial studies" that have "long since been discredited by the scientific community."
Bond did not cite any studies that contradict Schoen, though there are many. In 1995, the American Academy of Pediatrics reviewed 18 scientific studies on the correlation between children's mental abilities and lead in their blood. "The relationship between lead levels and IQ deficits was found to be remarkably consistent," the Academy said.
Nor did Bond quote any experts who disagree with the California doctor. Bond claimed that he tried and failed to reach one who does - Dr. John Rosen, a New York pediatrician and internationally recognized childhood lead expert whom Schoen dismissed in the article as "a complete fanatic."
"This is one-sided and bad reporting," said Dr. Bruce Lanphear, a physician at Children's Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati. "You can cite the Institute of Medicine, World Health Organization, American Academy of Pediatrics and numerous other respected organizations that contradict all of the overly simplistic comments made in the article."
Bond denies that his reporting is biased.
In another instance of apparently lopsided reporting, an extensive front-page article, "Priorities of Poison," published Nov. 11, 2001 in the Shoshone News-Press presented views from several local people who think lead-related health issues are of no concern in the area. No medical experts who disagree with this point of view - and again, there are many - were quoted in the story.
Similarly, a May 17, 2001 article in the Coeur d'Alene Press presented the views of three critics of the EPA's lead cleanup standards without finding a single expert to defend their validity. The end of the article did present a tame defense offered by a state of Idaho official.
The newspapers can also be misleading when they report on cleanup issues. For example, in a Feb. 14, 2002, article on a lawsuit filed by the Bunker Hill Mining Co. against the EPA, the Coeur d'Alene Press stated that the "EPA caused to be built next to the South Fork (of the Coeur d'Alene River) a hazardous waste landfill not in compliance with ... regulations of the EPA to protect the public health and the environment."
While there is, in fact, a landfill next to the South Fork, that landfill was built in the 1920s by the mining industry, a full five decades before the EPA was created.
A mobilizing force
Hagadone's Kellogg newspaper tends to dismiss people who claim that lead poisoning is a problem in the basin as "barbarians," "Millistines" and "Millstones" - clear references to the leader of Kellogg's environmental group. Last year, Bond described Barbara Miller in this way: "This woman flies around the country like a one-winged bat… A few years ago, she found she could make a buck blathering lies about the mental and physical health of the Silver Valley. She makes stuff up. She has other people who make stuff up for her."
Miller says that so far, she hasn't been physically harmed. But, she quickly adds, "I do not feel safe alone." And while ostracized in her own community, outsiders admire her work, which has created even more tension, again fostered by the Hagadone-owned news media.
Last August, when the Ford Foundation nominated Miller as a finalist for a prestigious award, the Shoshone News-Press launched a campaign against her. If Miller won, a $130,000 prize would have gone to the Silver Valley People's Action Coalition for its work in the community. This prompted the Shoshone News Press to ask members of the public to join an effort to block it.
Daniel C. Drewry, the paper's publisher and editor, urged readers to write letters to an affiliate of the Ford Foundation "to help choke off the stream of lies, half-truths, and distortions that emanate from the organization. The potential damage to the community, should the grant be awarded, is horrifying."
In the same editorial, he wrote, "We as a community know that Barbara Miller and her claque represent a tiny, disaffected minority. The group has no credibility and no respect. They bring in one or two outside 'experts' who spew insults at all of us from Rose Lake to Mullan. The spew is picked up by outside media, and the valley gets another black eye from the People's Action Coalition."
The Ford Foundation reported that among the finalists, it received letters of protest only regarding Miller's nomination. A typical letter apparently came from Jan Petersen, a resident of the Kellogg area who wrote in a letter published in the Idaho News Observer in Wallace (one of only two dailies or weeklies in northern Idaho not owned by Hagadone), "I do truly add my opinion to Barbara receiving this grant. The money will not be used to benefit the community, nor will it be used to educate the public or anyone on lead or any other contaminants. It might be used to pay some back-water bills, pay Dr. (John) Rosen (a medical consultant to the People's Action Committee) and buy her child much needed clothing and update the heap she (Miller) is living in."
Miller won the "Leadership for a Changing World" anyway. In granting the award, the Ford Foundation noted, "In a part of the United States where mining for metal has had a devastating effect on the environment and public health, Barbara Miller has mobilized residents to force the cleanup of contamination. She has also created a network of health and policy officials who are examining the residual impacts of lead poisoning on public health throughout the Northwest."
On other occasions, Miller's critics were successful in blocking grants to her group. Miller says the Catholic Church in 2000 rescinded an award under pressure from some residents.
Bond has directed additional attacks toward Paddock, a former Wallace resident who moved away after she discovered her house was severely contaminated with lead dust, an allegation that is central to a lawsuit filed against two real estate agencies and the former owner of the house, claiming they failed to inform the Paddocks about the risk. Paddock is also a former board member of SV PAC.
In a Nov. 7, 2001 commentary Bond wrote: "You (Paddock) sit down there with the Spruce Goose in McMinnville and take pot shots at us, and you sit on Barbarian Millstone's board of directors - the sole purpose of which is to terrorize honest, working people here in the Silver Valley."
After Bond published a threatening column last July, Paddock filed a complaint with the Shoshone County Sheriff. Bond responded with an email threatening to file charges "for the felony of attempted malicious prosecution."
And on occasion Bond targets members of the news media. For instance, in a Jan. 27, 2001, column Bond described how a Cascadia Times reporter could be pushed down a mine shaft.
Let's lace up the jack boots and play Waco
In May 2000, the EPA notified Idaho officials that the agency would formally propose a Superfund in the basin if the state did not agree to an adequately funded cleanup. Almost immediately, Idaho's congressional delegation called on the Ombudsman's office to investigate the decision. Days later, EPA Ombudsman investigator Hugh Kaufman was quoted in Hagadone's Coeur D'Alene Press as saying people in Idaho have reason to be afraid of the EPA. "It sounds like they are saying you better get an agreement before we lace up the jack boots and start playing Waco with you."
Last July, Bond wrote that if he was mayor of Kellogg, he would "reaffirm" for property owners "their right to shoot trespassers on sight, if they are employees or agents of the EPA or (state) Department of Environmental Quality." In September he wrote that locals should be required to arm themselves against federal agents seeking access to private property, comparing these agents to the people who blew up the World Trade Center. "The people ... who continue to take deadly aim at the Coeur d'Alene Mining District aren't traveling on forged passports. But they are terrorists just the same."
On Dec. 11, 2001, Bond wrote this in the Shoshone News Press: "The EPA is on its way, and you won't like the consequences… EPA decides to expand its mission. It sends in its hired guns like B-52 bombers to soften the targeted area. Then it goes in for the kill with its law-de greed ground troops."
Idaho politicians also seem to revel in EPA-bashing. Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, a Republican, said in a Nov. 13 speech in Wallace that EPA should all but butt out of Idaho.
"The bureaucracy of the EPA is absolutely non-responsive, and we've had it. Absolutely had it," Kempthorne said. "I've become so frustrated with EPA that I'm on the verge of asking EPA to leave the state of Idaho."
Predictably, Hagadone's newspapers gave prominent play to stories on the governor's speech. Kempthorne and the newspapers are allies in supporting legislation allowing increased casino gambling in the area. The papers are owned by the Hagadone Corporation which in 1998 contributed $10,000 to Kempthorne's successful run for governor.
Kempthorne's comments played well in Northern Idaho judging from letters to the editor from people cheering the governor on.
"He took a courageous stand worthy of all our support," James H. Hollingworth of Coeur d'Alene wrote in a letter published in the Coeur d'Alene Press. "It appears we are being held hostage by the EPA and a few radicals who only have to threaten to sue to cause us to back off. It is time we sued them and the radical judges who refuse to stand for American principles and the Constitution."
But EPA workers were not as thrilled. Before the meeting, EPA officials called for increased security for employees. Cami Grandinetti, the EPA's cleanup manager in Kellogg since 1996, said the agency's employees remain wary if not altogether frightened for their safety.
"I was there," Grandinetti said. "I don't personally think I'm a target or that there's a threat against me. I feel uneasy. But I don't feel there would be any sort of retaliation taken. That being said, I really wish it were easier to work in that community."
The EPA has asked the newspapers to tone down the rhetoric. Last summer, Charles E. Findley, then interim director of the EPA's Northwest regional office in Seattle, complained in a letter to the Shoshone News-Press that one of its columns "plainly suggests that your readers shoot EPA employees."
"Much has been said during the sometimes-acrimonious debates regarding EPA's work to protect children from environmental threats in the Silver Valley," Findley wrote. "However, it is wrong and dangerous for anyone, particularly the media, to say or print anything that can be perceived as a physical threat to anyone."
A former friend goes bonkers
In an interview with Cascadia Times, Bond said his columns containing threats were written "tongue in cheek."
"I just want somebody to unfuck a dastardly wrong here," he says. "It is the absolute abuse of this area by people like Barbara Miller, by the EPA and by corporations like the Union Pacific of a wonderful place." Bond said the Union Pacific has been allowed to walk away from enormous amounts of contamination.
D.F. Oliveria, an editorial writer for the Spokane Spokesman-Review, a newspaper that competes against Hagadone's newspapers in Northern Idaho, recently described Bond in a column as "a mine industry spokesman allowed to masquerade as a Coeur d'Alene Press correspondent." In the same column, Oliveria took a shot at Hagadone's newspapers with this blurb: "Friends don't let friends get important news from Brand X."
Bond denies he is working for the mining industry. "I can't stand those people - they're media idiots," he said of its local leaders.
As for Oliveria, Bond said, "I'm measuring carpet for Oliveria's office. I'm suing the son of a bitch for all he's worth."
Oliveria declined to be interviewed, but in an email to one of the sources for this article indicated that hard feelings toward Barbara Miller are heard all the way to Spokane: "The vicious attacks we receive every time we print something nice about her is proof that she's surrounded by some very nasty people."
Jim Fisher, an editorial writer for the Lewiston Tribune and former editor of a newspaper in Kellogg (though not the one owned by Hagadone), is also dismayed by what's printed in Hagadone's newspapers. "As an Idahoan by choice, a Washingtonian by birth, I'm embarrassed, and not reluctant to say so," Fisher says. "Of course, Hagadone is pushing his business interests with his crusade against EPA, especially the prospect that Lake Coeur d'Alene - Coeur Duane - is included in a Superfund designation. And most Idaho politicians have been only too happy to pander to him. Former Gov. Phil Batt would be pushed only so far, but his replacement (Dirk Kempthorne) is a true patsy."
As for Bond, Fisher dismisses him as "a former friend and competitor … who has apparently gone bonkers since I last saw him."