The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has approved the Caldwell Canyon Mine project in Idaho. The project includes two openpit phosphate mines to be developed on three phosphate leases by Bayer Bayer subsidiary P4 Production. Bayer acquired agricultural giant Monsanto, which previously mined the area, for $63 billion last year.
In the Final Environmental Impact Statement released in May, P4 Production said approving the mines would mean 185 miners working at its nearby Blackfoot Bridge Mine would transition to the new mine as the current mine runs out of phosphate ore.
The Idaho State Journal reported that the company also said opening the new mine would preserve 585 jobs at its processing plant in Soda Springs for the 40-year life of the mine.
“The Caldwell Canyon Mine is a vital part of the Idaho economy,” said William Perry Pendley, acting head of the BLM. “This project’s approval means decades of additional job security and economic development for communities in the surrounding area, and the BLM is proud to play a part in sustaining those benefits.”
Idaho’s congressional delegation — Republican U.S. Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, and U.S. Republican Reps. Mike Simpson and Russ Fulcher — applauded the BLM’s approval of the plan.
“This record of decision from the BLM is the result of years of collaboration and I am very pleased and grateful for those who worked to make it possible,” Simpson said.
The area contains one the nation’s most abundant deposits of phosphate ore that’s turned into fertilizer needed by farmers to grow food. Idaho-based Simplot also has a mine in the area.
The final plan for P4 Production’s mine involves two open pits covering about 1,200 acres. Most of that is on private land, while about 140 acres is on BLM land, and 200 acres are on Idaho endowment land. State officials have already approved the lease on that land.
The Idaho Conservation League, an environmental watchdog group, said it was pleased the company used some of its ideas to minimize environmental impacts, including avoiding building roads in sensitive habitat and taking precautions to protect water quality.
Phosphate mining first started in the area in the 1940s. Since then, several dozen mines have opened and closed, leaving open pits and waste rock dumps. Selenium from the sites has leached into streams or been absorbed by plants.
Selenium is needed for life but is toxic in large quantities. In 1997, sheep and horses eating selenium-laden plants died. Now, the area has more than a dozen federal Superfund sites needing cleanup.
At the new mine, officials say a special type of cover — a geomembrane backfill cover, which has been put to use in the area in the past decade — will be used on backfill to reduce groundwater impacts.
Photo: An unidentified phosphate mill. (Shutterstock).