The head of Midas Gold Idaho said Thursday that discharges of heavy metals into streams and rivers at the Stibnite Mine in central Idaho are related to historic mining activity that took place long before the company became involved in the project.
Laurel Sayer, CEO of Midas Gold Idaho, was responding to a 60-day notice of intent to sue filed by the Nez Perce Tribe on Wednesday. The tribe claims since the company acquired mining rights to the area near the unincorporated town of Yellow Pine, it is responsible for the discharges of arsenic, antimony and other heavy metals into streams that form the headwaters of the South Fork of the Salmon River. The area is home to threatened spring chinook, steelhead and bull trout.
Sayer said Midas Gold has never mined at Stibnite and, according to the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980, is not responsible for the pollution. Three years ago, the company submitted a plan of operation to restart and expand the mine, while at the same time cleaning up environmental problems left behind from a century of mining there.
Those problems include more than 3 million tons of tailings, 7 million tons of heap leach ore, open pits, waste rock dumps and barriers that prevent fish like chinook salmon and steelhead from reaching spawning grounds. According to a news release from the company, one sampling site near the East Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon River, downslope from a waste dump installed by the U.S. Forest Service, had arsenic levels 700 times higher than the drinking water standard.
“We have long shared the Nez Perce Tribe’s concerns over water quality in the Stibnite Mining District and we are well aware of the site’s historically degraded water quality,” Sayer said. “Filing a lawsuit will not fix the problem. Instead, the site needs to be cleaned up, a point on which we are certain the tribe can agree with.”
According to the news release, the company is working with both the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency to get permission to further study the problems as it works to get the mine permitted.
Mining at Stibnite dates back to at least the 1930s, and the site was active during World War II, before modern environmental standards were adopted. According to the news release, it is likely that the heavy metal problems at the site have persisted for decades.
The company wants to mine the old tailings piles as well as nearby areas that have not previously been mined. It has also proposed removing barriers to fish, fixing sedimentation problems and removing tailings and other waste that contribute to water quality problems there. Sayer hoped the lawsuit threat would bring attention to the water quality and fish habitat problems and the need to address them.
“Private industry is the partner regulators and local communities need to bring solutions to the Stibnite Mining District,” Sayer said in the release. “Over the past several years, our team of engineers, consultants and experts have undertaken a wide-ranging characterization of the current issues at the site in order to develop a comprehensive plan to profitably and responsibly use mining to address the contamination and legacy issues. A lawsuit is counterproductive to a solution.”
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