South Fork Salmon mine proposal threatens endangered fish

Gold mines always come with polished promises of safe practices, years of jobs and thorough environmental rehabilitation. History shows, however, the promises are rarely kept. 

Idahoans this spring and early summer are facing yet another mine proposition. Canada-based Midas Gold has proposed to reopen pit mines near the remote community of Yellow Pine at the headwaters of the East Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon River, a river basin prized for fishing, hunting, paddling and beauty. 

Midas is proposing a strip mine with three pits and a total project area of 29,827 acres, including 2,000 acres of pits, facilities, stockpiles, roads and other other associated infrastructure. 

What’s more, the area, which has been under exploration off and on from about 1900 through the 1990s, was declared a Superfund site in the late 1990s. The Environmental Protection Agency spent $13 million to reclaim the site and stem the release of arsenic and mercury.

The company is also proposing to process all gold and silver on site, creating an opportunity for further environmental contamination. The project is proposed to last anywhere from 15 to 20 years, but historically, operations last much less due to fluctuating markets and ecological problems. 

Idaho Rivers United opposes any action that threatens clean water and fisheries habitat, especially habitat for endangered species like salmon and bull trout. IRU feels that Idahoans cannot afford to fund another toxic cleanup for a private company. 

The mining project is in a scoping period with the U.S. Forest Service to examine concerns from citizens. IRU encourages people who care about clean water in this prized watershed to comment at one of the three upcoming events and specifically voice concerns about the potential impacts to endangered salmon habitat and recreation in the area.

The meetings times and locations are as follows:

  • June 27, 5-7 p.m., Ashley Inn, Cascade, Idaho 
  • June 28, 5- 7 p.m., Payette Forest Supervisor’s Office, McCall, Idaho
  • June 29, 1-3 p.m. and 5- 7 p.m., Holiday Inn Express and Suites (Airport), Boise, Idaho

The Payette National Forest will accept public comments through July 20. For more information and to comment go to www.fs.usda.gov/goto/payette/StibniteGold.

Gold mining in Idaho is a seasoned tradition of boom-and-bust communities, false hopes and environmental degradation. Massive price tags for environmental cleanup are almost always left to communities and taxpayers after extraction and processing operations leave regions environmentally devastated. 

Mining, especially open pit mining, not only compromises scenic values but also the ecological integrity of water and soil, vital components to wildlife and human health. Toxic pollutants are common remnants while mines are in operation and do not stop after operations cease. This often leaves a huge reclamation bill for taxpayers to pay. 

Idahoans may have distrust of unfilled promises from mining companies, and no matter how shiny their language may be it does not dissolve the lack of confidence citizens hold. Citizens that rely on the Boise River may be familiar with these sentiments. In 2012 Atlanta Gold was found liable for $2 million for more than 2,000 Clean Water Act violations. Atlanta Gold knowingly discharged arsenic and iron into the headwaters of the Boise River. Those are levels much higher than permitted. 

Before Atlanta Gold planned its operations in the Boise River headwaters, HECLA (a company widely praised for environmentally minded plans) dug a massive open pit mine on Jordan Creek near the Frank Church-River of no Return Wilderness Area. Opposition by environmental advocates started from the beginning due to apparent threats to critical salmon habitat and overall ecosystem impairment. The Grouse Creek Mine inevitably did leak, continuously dumping toxic cyanide into Jordan Creek, a tributary of the Salmon River.  

If you are concerned about the inevitable water contamination, habitat destruction and large reclamation bill posed by Midas Gold’s proposal in the South Fork of the Salmon River drainage, please let your voice be heard. We are specifically concerned about:

  • Cyanide and other toxic chemicals corrupting water quality of the East Fork of the South Fork and South Fork of the Salmon rivers and other tributary creeks. 
  • Compromised endangered species habitat from sediment loading and waterway alterations. 
  • Impairment of fishing, boating, hiking and other recreation opportunities in this highly-prized river basin.

Editor's Note: This blog has been edited to correct the amount the EPA has spent to clean up Stibnite. The amount is $13 million.