The Colville Confederated Tribes of Washington State are savoring a court victory that has been a long time in the making: In mid-September, British Columbia–based Teck Resources Ltd. finally admitted in court that it had polluted the Columbia River for more than a hundred years.
The company conceded that runoff from the smelter of its subsidiary Teck Metals Ltd. in Trail, B.C., had been polluting the waters downstream since 1896.
“Trail discharged solid effluents, or slag, and liquid effluent into the Columbia River that came to rest in Washington State, and from that material, hazardous materials [under U.S. environmental laws] were released into the environment,” said Dave Godlewski, vice president of environment and public affairs for Teck American, to the Canadian Press. “That’s what we’ve agreed to. We’ve not talked about the amount of the release. We’ve not talked about the impacts of those releases. We’ve just agreed that there has been a release in the U.S.”
Colville first sued Teck in 2004, claiming that the company had discharged 144,000 tons of effluent straight into the river over the years consisting of arsenic, cadmium, copper, mercury, lead and zinc, according to the Canadian Press. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) entered the fray as an intervenor, ordering Teck to study the effects of the discharged metals.
The case was 10 days before trial when Teck made the admission in a September 10 court appearance.
“With these concessions documented in a signed stipulation, questions that were formerly central to the parties’ litigation are now undisputed by Teck, and a one-day streamlined trial will be held without live testimony from witnesses to focus on remaining legal issues,” said the tribes in a statement.
“Water is at the heart of who we are as a people, and while there are still significant issues that remain to be resolved in this litigation we are pleased with the stipulation, and believe it is a positive step for the tribes and our river,” Tribal Chairman John Sirois said in the media release. “The Columbia River is both a national treasure, and the cultural and spiritual center for the Colville peoples. We hope that this litigation will move us forward as we seek to clean up and protect the health of the Columbia River for all of the people who enjoy and depend on it. We are committed to do all that we can to improve the watershed both for this generation and for the coming generations.”
Though far from a settlement, the admission paves the way for the shortened trial, to be held on October 10 in federal district court in Yakima, Washington. That will be limited to oral arguments addressing just two matters that remain unsettled, the tribes’ release said. Damages were not announced.