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Coeur d'Alene Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Litigation Support

Field technicians measure water quality parameters in the South Fork Coeur d’Alene River, Idaho, in September 2009. Abt Associates’ staff conducted natural resource injury assessment and damage determination studies on behalf of federal and tribal trustees to quantify the impacts of mine waste releases in the Coeur d’Alene River Basin in southwest Idaho.

Over a seventeen-year period – from 1994 to 2010 – Abt staff prepared numerous technical and expert reports, including the Report of Injury Assessment, which detailed the sources of hazardous substances, transport and exposure pathways, and injuries to surface water, sediments, fish, benthic invertebrates, riparian soils and vegetation, and wildlife.

The Coeur d’Alene natural resource damages litigation resulted in responsible parties paying more than $1 billion for habitat restoration in the basin.

Abt staff designed and executed original field and laboratory research to assess impacts of elevated metals concentrations on vegetation and fish – including rainbow trout and bull trout, an endangered species resident in the Coeur d’Alene River Basin. We also designed and directed field studies to quantify the abundance and geographic distributions of resident fish species, as well as surveys of floodplain soils and plants to quantify the impacts of mine tailings on the abundance and quality of the floodplain plant community.

In the damage assessment, we used a habitat equivalency analyses (HEA) to estimate restoration, rehabilitation, and replacement actions necessary to compensate for past and interim resource and habitat service losses. These calculations were based on the costs of restoring both onsite habitats impacted by mine wastes and offsite habitats degraded by road-building and logging.

Abt staff provided extensive litigation and trial support to the Department of Justice, during both the litigated phase of the NRDA and subsequent proceedings when a responsible party (ASARCO) filed for bankruptcy. Abt experts developed case, trial, and testimony outlines; drafted and reviewed expert reports, proffers, and affidavits; evaluated and prepared potential witnesses and conducted mock depositions; prepared case attorneys on technical issues related to injury and liability; and provided expert testimony in deposition and multiple trials.