Boise headwaters mine thwarted by local clean water advocates

U.S. District Judge Edward J. Lodge again found yesterday, July 11, that the Forest Service had acted arbitrarily and capriciously by approving the CuMo Exploration Project without adequate environmental analysis. 

The Idaho Conservation League, Idaho Rivers United and the Golden Eagle Chapter of the Audubon Society had challenged the decision by the Forest Service approving mining exploration in the headwaters of the Boise River. 

A Canadian mining company, American CuMo, hopes to construct over 10 miles of new roads and clear 137 drill pads in the Boise River headwaters near Grimes Creek. This is a step toward developing what the mining company hopes could be one of the largest open pit mines in the world. 

Both exploration and mine development are extremely controversial.  The exploration site is upstream of half of Idaho’s population, and the Boise River watershed provides more than 20 percent of Boise’s drinking water supply. 

According to the EPA, mining is the number one toxic polluter in the US. 

A spate of recent mine accidents on the Animas River in Colorado and the Mount Polley Mine in British Columbia have raised concerns about mine development upstream of communities. 

This is the second time that the District Court put the CuMo exploration project on hold. In 2012, the District Court ruled that the Forest Service had not taken an adequate look at the project’s impacts on groundwater. 

In this case, it was a rare flower, Sacajawea’s bitterroot that placed the mine exploration on hold. The District Court ruled that the Forest Service “has not adequately considered the Project’s impact on the species,” leaving too much unknown.  The court stated in its decision: “What is known and recognized . . . is that [Sacajawea’s bitterroot] is very rare, a large portion of its population is located within the Project Area, it is protected, and its future is at risk.”

“The big winner here is the Boise River and everyone who enjoys the Boise River,” said John Robison with the Idaho Conservation League. “The mining company needs to recognize that folks care about what happens upstream of our community.”

“The Boise River watershed provides clean drinking water for our communities,
irrigation water for local agriculture and unmatched recreation activities for families,” said Kevin Lewis, Executive Director of Idaho Rivers United. “This summer our watershed is a little safer as a result of this decision.”

“Ironically, it was a tiny plant that put this Canadian mining company on hold,” said Sean Finn with the Golden Eagle Audubon Society. “I am sure the mining company will be back, but they need to know that our community is fiercely protective of the Boise River watershed and everything in it.”

"Our environmental laws require scientific rigor, public involvement, and protecting imperiled species like Sacajawea's bitterroot," said Bryan Hurlbutt with Advocates for the West.  "The court's decision sends a strong message to the Forest Service and CuMo that they cannot cut corners." 

The plaintiffs are being represented by Bryan Hurlbutt of Advocates for the
West and by Roger Flynn of the Western Mining Action Project.