Originally posted Aug 30 at IdahpCapitalSun.com.YELLOW PINE, Idaho — A gold mining company has begun initial cleanup of a historic mine site in Idaho’s central mountains where it hopes to resume mining operations.
Perpetua Resources, formerly known as Midas Gold, is seeking federal government approval to restart mining operations at the Stibnite Gold Project about nine miles east of Yellow Pine, a remote town of 32 nestled in a section forested and mountainous area of Valley County. The mine is located just outside the border of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, home to salmon, wolverines, wolves, bears and abundant wildlife.
Perpetua Resources has submitted a Reclamation and Operation Plan and several revisions (the most recent is Modified Proposed Action 2, or ModPRO2 and available on Perpetua’s website) that outlines the company’s plans and proposals.
Perpetua wants to reopen mines for gold and antimony, a chemical element found in minerals that Perpetua says can be used to produce liquid metal batteries and ammunition. The company has proposed building a new access road to the mine site and says it wants to clean up some of the historic mine waste from previous operations when mining resumes.
But not all stakeholders agree with the company’s proposals. The Nez Perce Tribe and the Idaho Conservation League have expressed concerns about the size and scale of the project — particularly its reach into previously undisturbed virgin land.
The next step in the permitting process is for the US Forest Service to issue a draft supplemental environmental impact statement, which Perpetua officials say could occur within the next month.
In interviews and in its promotional materials, Perpetua describes the mine site as one of the 10 largest gold deposits in the United States. The company believes it can recover more than 4.8 million ounces of gold and 148 million pounds of antimony, Perpetua Resources vice president of external affairs Mckinsey Lyon said during a tour of the mine. at the beginning of the month. The company estimates the total project cost could be $1.1 billion and include three years of construction and 12 to 15 years of mining, Lyon said. It would be an open pit mine, where the material is blasted and the ore is transported in large haul trucks to a processing facility. During operation, Perpetua says it could directly employ 500 people at the mine, which would include living quarters, where employees would work two-week shifts on two weeks off, Lyon said.
How would the mining company repair the historical damage?
Mining in the area dates back to 1899 and the Thunder Mountain Gold Rush. It intensified over the following decades and as part of World War II, the Bradley Mining Co. produced tungsten, a rare metal, for the war effort, Lyon said. More than 1,000 people moved to Stibnite, where there was a school, a dance hall and a bowling alley. Mining continued into the 1990s, and much of the mining took place before environmental protection laws were in place, Lyon said.
As a result, water in rivers and streams is polluted with arsenic and sediment, the East Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon River now empties into an abandoned open pit mine and Perpetua Resources has identified 10.5 million tonnes of waste and tailings at the site.
During a tour of the mine this month with the Idaho Capital Sun, salmon were swimming just off the edge of the pit.
“This whole valley is actually full of tailings,” Lyon said. “Our vision was that if you are going to operate a mine, you must also return value to the community by cleaning it up”
Given the damage and pollution resulting from 100 years of mining, Lyon said it would take millions of dollars and an industry-wide commitment like Perpetua proposes to make a difference. Without it, Lyon said the abandoned mine site could remain as it is with no guarantee of improved water quality or the rivers that support salmon and bull trout.
“We believe this is an opportunity to recoup the benefits of restoration on site as soon as possible,” Lyon said.
Lyon and Perpetua officials say modern mining is different and they won’t make the same mistakes as other companies that have polluted the rivers and lands around the mine. Before Perpetua can obtain a permit to begin mining or begin construction, Perpetua must secure millions of dollars in funding for financial guarantees that will be set aside to ensure cleanup and reclamation of the mine will be completed. once the mining is complete, even if Perpetua cannot complete the job itself.
Perpetua and its contractors began the first cleanup efforts at Hennessey Creek in July. The creek has lost water and is flowing through the waste, and crews are lining it to protect the water, Lyon said. Next summer, plans are to remove waste from the East Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon River. If construction and mining begins, Perpetua plans to build a fish passage tunnel that would divert the East Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon River away from the abandoned Yellow Pine Pit it now crosses, blocking the Pisces.
“The salmon are now stuck 20 miles from their historic habitat,” Lyon said.
Eventually, Perpetua plans to backfill the Yellow Pine pit and begin rebuilding the river approximately 12 years after the project began.
What conservationists and Native American tribes say about the mine plan
Leaders of the Nez Percé tribe and conservation groups have expressed concern over Perpetua’s proposal to resume mining at the Stibnite mine.
They are concerned that the size and scale of Perpetua’s proposal is greater than historic mining operations, they point out that Perpetual’s project would expand into pristine, undisturbed areas that have not been fouled by the historic mining operation and they are concerned about the impact on salmon habitat.
The mine was built in the historic homeland of the Nez Perce Tribe after the tribe ceded land to the federal government in an 1855 treaty. In an October 2020 letter to the Payette National Forest Forestry Supervisor, Linda Jackson, then president of the executive committee of the Nez Percé Tribe, Shannon F. Wheeler wrote that the 1855 treaty guaranteed the tribe’s right to fish, hunt, gather, and travel in their usual places. . These rights, Wheeler writes, represent a guarantee of the tribe’s ability to preserve its culture and identity.
“The Tribe has suffered immeasurable damage over the past two centuries due to flawed federal policies, resource development and land management practices, and broken treaty promises that have ignored our culture and threatened our way of life. life,” Wheeler wrote. “Gold mining has played a particularly glaring and enduring role in this ignominious history of hardship and loss.”
“Given the legacy of wanton dispossession and destruction of our lands and resources through gold mining, the tribe is committed to preventing this damage from ever being returned to our people,” said added Wheeler.
Efforts to contact the members of the executive committee of the Nez Perce tribe were unsuccessful.
John Robison, director of public lands for the Idaho Conservation League, said conservationists were also concerned.
“The East Fork South Fork Salmon River is a special place that has historically been one of the most important summer spawning habitats for chinook in the entire Columbia River Basin,” Robison said in a phone interview. “We found very high concerns about adverse effects on fishing, especially with increasing temperature.”
“Perpetua talks a lot about restoring fish passage in the area – and we all want to see the fish come back – but one of the issues is that if the temperatures get too high it makes the area unusable for the fish we try. to restore,” Robison added.
Perpertua’s plans call for 51% of its project to be in areas previously disturbed and affected by previous mining, Lyon said. But 49% of the new mining project would extend into areas that have not been previously disturbed by mining.
“If Perpetua had a plan that focused on existing disturbed areas and rehabilitated and restored those areas while they were mined, that would be a very different conversation,” Robinson said.
“Instead, half of the project area is in pristine, undisturbed areas. Their mine waste treatment plan, for the treatment of leftover mine waste from previous operations, is to mine it, mix it with other mine waste they produce, and deposit it in a pristine river valley. Doesn’t look like catering to me.