Some environmental groups are urging the U.S. Forest Service to prohibit the reopening of a gold and antimony mine in Idaho, but Midas Gold, the company that owns the Stibnite Gold Project, says it can do more to protect nearby rivers than if mining is banned.
American Rivers said mining should be banned on the tributary of the Salmon River, one of the most important spawning grounds for wild endangered salmon, steelhead and bull trout.
“The South Fork Salmon still boasts clear, free-flowing waters, and feeds the beloved wild and scenic Main Salmon downstream,” said Mike Fiebig with American Rivers in Bozeman, in a press release. “It’s time for the U.S. Forest Service to put an end once and for all to toxic mining near this treasured river.”
Laurel Sayer chief executive officer of Midas Gold said she agrees the river is threatened by the historic mining. But, she said, American Rivers and its partners have the wrong remedy.
“Doing nothing will continue to let fish habitat and water quality deteriorate and keep salmon blocked from their native spawning grounds,” Sayer said. “At Midas Gold, we’ve already developed a comprehensive plan to finally restore the river’s ecosystem, and do much of that during the very early years of the project.”
The Idaho Statesman reported that the South Fork of the Salmon, located east of McCall, is a major tributary of the Salmon River, the second-longest, free-flowing river in the Lower 48. It remains a major fishing site for Nez Perce, Shoshone, Bannock and Paiute tribal members.
Its expert-level whitewater brings kayakers from around the world. The Forest Service deemed it eligible for protection under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
Stibnite has been mined for gold and antimony since the 1800s. Miners left open pits and dug-up stream beds that continue to leak cyanide, mercury, antimony and other toxic metals into the river, the U.S. Geological Survey said in 2015.
The Forest Service, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and several mining companies spent $13 million over the last four decades to reduce the pollution.
Midas Gold said it will continue this work and will reconnect salmon to their native spawning grounds for the first time in 80 years, before mining even begins.
Midas will stop hundreds of tons of sediment from entering the river from an earthen dam that failed in the 1960s, she said. Another pile of 9.5 Mt (10.5 million st) of ore and waste left by past miners will be reprocessed and its toxic metals removed.
The company also plans to invest in wetlands and the stream channel so the ecosystem can recover and habitat and water quality can be restored, she said.
“As Idahoans, we are acutely aware of why restoring the East Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon River is more critical than ever,” Sayer said in a press release.
The Forest Service is reviewing the Stibnite project and a draft environment impact statement is expected later this year. Midas Gold will need 50 permits from state and federal agencies and, under state and federal law, must have a bond and finances set aside for restoration ahead of time.