A majority of people who commented on a new mine proposal for the Payette National Forest are extremely worried about its potential impacts on people, wildlife and water quality.
The Payette National Forest on February 2 released a summary of the 536 public scoping comments it collected from 1,800 people regarding the Midas Gold Stibnite Project. A majority of comments expressed concern. A noteworthy percentage highlight serious apprehensions for environmental quality, human health, and wildlife and species conservation on the forest.
In comparison, a recent public policy study from Boise State University concluded favorable opinions about mining in Idaho. Of those surveyed, 80.4 percent said, “mining can be done in an environmentally responsible manner.” Another 61.2 percent said, “Idaho should lead the way by mining for critical minerals here.”
IRU has concerns, however, about the study’s objectivity. Midas Gold is one of the study’s sponsors. According to the study, mining is perceived as promising and popular, but public comments collected by the Forest Service during scoping for Midas Gold’s proposed Stibnite Project clearly show otherwise.
The most significant issues found during the scoping process include environmental concerns, access, socioeconomic issues, tribal treaty rights, and tribal values. A majority of people who commented are hesitant about the project and believe it will change surface and groundwater quality at the site and downriver.
“…[T]he potential for groundwater contamination and the potential that groundwater contaminated by the proposed project will reach surface water and assess the threat this could cause to fisheries,” one person commented.
People are also attentive to the potential risks to wildlife and fish, especially threatened and endangered species. Another significant issue brought to light is how the project will influence the social and economic fabric of central Idaho communities and the region.
“The EIS should examine the boom and bust cycle and any need for studies of impact on Valley County and communities of Cascade and Yellow Pine commerce,” according to one commenter.
About 95 Percent of the project is on public land, and those who commented also stressed public access and the inevitable spoiling of the area’s remote natural beauty.
Those who commented also stressed that public land adjacent to the project site is used for a variety of recreation activities.
“The EIS should disclose potential effects on the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, eligible Wild and Scenic rivers, and other special designations, such as Research Natural Areas, and recommended wilderness,” wrote another commenter.
Tribal concerns were also extremely prevalent. Both the Nez Perce and the Shoshone-Bannock tribes filed detailed comments focusing on tribal treaty rights and tribal values.
Midas Gold has been working for years in Valley and Ada counties to influence public opinion. The company has implanted a strong “Restore the Site” public relations campaign, as well as touted numerous promised economic windfalls for rural Idaho communities.
However, it is obvious that the public relations campaign has not assuaged people’s worries. Numerous citizens and organizations commented that Midas Gold must post adequate bonding to cover predicted and unpredicted disturbances and operations at the site.
“This project will disturb previously reclaimed areas and what assurance would the public have that the reclamation proposed by Midas would not be disturbed by another mining company?” wrote one.
“Mining companies in the western United States have a record of not completing reclamation efforts,” they wrote.
Mining has a long history of significant environmental infractions, but the Forest Service’s summary of comments highlights a deeper point about massive mining companies making profits from public lands.
The Forest Service summary showed that people do not believe their voices matter and that their neighbors have become complacent.
“One commenter expressed concern that ‘people don’t share their comments or thoughts because we have been conditioned to stay silent and doubt that our comments would make a difference,’ and that the project is a ‘done deal,’” according to the summary.
In addition, some of those who commented were concerned about the “weight” of local communities against a huge company like Midas Gold. It is evident that individuals do not feel as though their voices of apprehension are heard amongst the booming praises of Midas.
This massive mining project has affected people at a deep level. Before Midas even starts mining at Stibnite, it has unearthed substantial concerns for local and regional communities. It is clear that people do not want their drinking water contaminated. They do not want their native species extirpated. They do not want their special places destroyed. They are concerned their voices won’t have weight.
The Forest Service processed and analyzed 536 individual comments. For further information, read the summary.
Banner photo of the South Fork of the Salmon River by Nate Ostis