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Missouri NRDAR Trustee Council Reaches Multi-Million Dollar Settlement Agreement for Tri-State Mining District
Midwest Region, December 21, 2007
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The environment in Southwest Missouri that has suffered under a long toxic legacy of heavy-metal mine waste has new hope for restoration.

 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Missouri Ecological Services Field Office and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), which collectively comprise the Missouri Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration (NRDAR) Trustee Council, have reached an agreement in principle for the settlement of claims against ASARCO, LLC (Asarco). Asarco is a former operator of lead and zinc mines and mills in Jasper and Newton Counties in southwest Missouri. 

 

In conjunction with the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of the Interior, Office of the Solicitor, the Missouri NRDAR Trustee Council, and Missouri Office of the Attorney General reached a settlement agreement of $17.1 million in September, 2007, for natural resource injuries in Missouri.

 

The Missouri NRDAR Trustee Council is part of a larger Tri-State Partnership, which includes the states of Kansas and Oklahoma and nine Tribal governments. The Tri-State partnership reached a total settlement agreement of $51 million plus $2 million for past assessment costs.

 

The Tri-State Mining District (Tri-State) spans portions of southwest Missouri, southeast Kansas, and northeast Oklahoma.  Tri-State is the fourth largest historic producer of lead and the number one historic producer of zinc within the United States.  Commercial mining began about 1848 near Granby and Joplin, Missouri and moved westward into Kansas and Oklahoma. 

 

Mine and mill waste containing heavy metals has contaminated thousands of acres of land and nearly one hundred miles of streams.  The underground mines have also contaminated groundwater across thousands of acres.  The effects of the mining and milling have seriously impacted fish and wildlife resources in the region, including migratory birds, freshwater mussels, and several endangered species including the Ozark cavefish and Neosho madtom.

 

Asarco and its predecessors owned and operated mining leases, and mills in the Tri-State area from the late 1800s to 1950.  In August 2005, Asarco filed for bankruptcy in federal court.  Natural resource trustees in Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma filed claims against Asarco in August 2006 for injuries to natural resources under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly known as Superfund.

 

Superfund provides federal authority to respond directly to the release of hazardous substances that may endanger public health or the environment and compensate the public for injuries to natural resources. The trustees rapidly completed an assessment of injured, destroyed or lost resources and their services including injuries to birds, fish, freshwater mussels, groundwater, and supporting habitat to meet deadlines required by the bankruptcy court.   

 

Dave Mosby and John Weber, Environmental Contaminants Specialists from Missouri Ecological Services Field Office; Jim Dwyer, Tri-State Coordinator; and Frances Klahr, Natural Resources Damages Coordinator for MDNR, spent over two years determining the best means to quantify the injuries and the most efficient and effective ways to restore the resources. 

 

NRDAR trustees and Asarco reached a settlement in principle in September 2007. Final settlement amounts realized by the NRDA trustees will depend on economic and legal factors. However, estimates place the figure in the 80 – 100 percent range of the agreed upon amount.

 

The Missouri NRDAR Trustee Council will produce a Southwest Missouri Regional Restoration Plan that will be used to restore natural resources or otherwise compensate the public for lost services.  Established restoration alternatives in the plan will expedite on-the-ground projects once settlement funds are recovered.  In addition these funds may be combined with other smaller settlements and/or leveraged with other funding sources to achieve more restoration in southwest Missouri.  The Southwest Regional Restoration Plan is expected to be open for public comment by summer 2008.

 

Potential restoration projects include restoring stream habitat by removing contaminated sediment, restoring native vegetative habitat on private lands impacted by the mining in Jasper and Newton Counties, and purchasing land or conservation easements as riparian corridor or groundwater recharge protection zones. Mosby said, “This settlement was a long time in coming.   We have worked on this site for almost 15 years. It was very rewarding to finally reach a settlement that can be used to improve conditions on the ground.”

Contact Info: Larry Dean, 612-713-5312, Larry_Dean@fws.gov



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