By JOSH MCDONALD
KELLOGG — Over the last few weeks, construction crews have been working along Interstate 90 between Kellogg and Smelterville, removing the longstanding billboards that have dotted the side of the highway for many decades.
The billboards were removed as part of the Bunker Hill Central Treatment Plant Upgrade and Groundwater Collection System project that is moving along as scheduled.
The groundwater collection system requires a 20-30 foot wall to be built below the ground between I-90 and the Central Impoundment Area (CIA, or locally referred to as the ‘slag pile’).
As contaminated groundwaters runs off the CIA and makes its way toward the Coeur d’Alene River, the wall will stop its progress and a series of pumps will pump the contaminated water back to the Central Treatment Plant.
This project will allow the CTP to continue to treat current water inflows and meet existing discharge standards as well as more stringent updated standards after completion.
With the amount of work that will be happening in that area of land between the highway and the CIA, the billboards had to come down.
Initially there was outcry from local businesses who did not want to see the billboards go, but the billboard owners were given the chance to salvage them nearly three years before they were brought down.
Letters were also sent to the billboard owners notifying them of their impending removal in September of last year, but according to a representative with the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, no one responded.
“We sent the letters in September of last year to let the owners know that they needed to get the billboards down,” Don Carpenter said. “Those letters we sent were 90-day notices, and we had hoped that the owners would respond by salvaging them. No one responded and I’m not sure why.”
The only billboard that will remain standing is the easternmost billboard welcoming travelers to Kellogg.
The billboards were something of an anomaly, as they were out of compliance with several of the Idaho Transportation Department’s outdoor advertising regulations; but since they were in place before the regulations were set, they were granted a grandfather status.
This grandfather status is null though once the billboards are removed (even temporarily), which Carpenter believes could be one of the reasons that the owners are upset.
“ITD has regulations that govern where the billboards can go,” Carpenter said. “If they come down, then they have to reapply for permitting, and then make sure that they are in full compliance with the regulations before they go back up.”
According to Carpenter, the IDEQ will eventually be taking control of the CIA, which should bode well for the billboard owners should they choose to pursue putting the billboards back up.
“Once the project is complete, the IDEQ will definitely entertain the idea of putting the billboards back if ITD approves the permits,” Carpenter said. “But they would have to be in full compliance and they would have to work around the newly installed groundwater collection system.”
Work on the groundwater collection system will continue throughout the summer.
"This is a big step forward for both the community and the environment," said Sheryl Bilbrey, director of EPA's Superfund cleanup office in Seattle. “When finished, the groundwater collection system and upgraded treatment plant will reduce the single highest source of dissolved zinc pollution to the South Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River by up to 90 percent. For Silver Valley communities, the local jobs and project-related spending will be enjoyed over the life of the project."
The existing public access trail that skirts the northern edge of the Slag Pile Area and Central Impoundment Area between Bunker Avenue and Government Gulch Road will be closed with the start of this project and will remain closed at least through the duration of the project.