Man fined for illegal dredge mining on Clearwater River from 2018 civil lawsuit

Dredge mining operation
Posted at 5:18 PM, Sep 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-30 19:18:29-04

BOISE, Idaho — A federal judge levied a $150,000 fine against an individual in a civil suit brought forward by Idaho Conservation League (ICL) in 2018.

The U.S. Magistrate judge decided the 42 days Shannon Poe, president and founder of the American Mining Rights Association (AMRA), spent dredge mining on the South Fork of the Clearwater River in 2014, 2015, and 2018 violated federal law by failing to obtain the proper permits from the EPA.

ICL External Relations Director Jonathan Oppenheimer said despite federal officials receiving evidence, the organization failed to see enforcement of the Clean Water Act requirement.

“We've seen a few cases of enforcement there. But frankly, we're discouraged that we weren't seeing sufficient enforcement from federal agencies," Oppenheimer said. "We took it on ourselves to do some of this monitoring and and ultimately, holding Mr. Poe accountable for his illegal activity.”

Dredge mining operation

Oppenheimer said IDL has worked to stop illegal dredge mining for about a decade.

“Specifically on the South Fork Clearwater back in around 2012, 2013, we saw an uptick in the amount of illegal and un-permitted dredging in that river and that's especially a concern because of the presence of endangered species and their designated critical habitat in that area," Oppenheimer said.

Salmon, steelhead and bull trout were among the species Oppenheimer mentioned as threatened.

In Idaho, people are required to obtain two permits for dredge mining: a recreational activity using a gas-powered machine that vacuums rocks, gravel and sediment from streams and rivers in search of gold.

A permit from the Idaho Department of Water Resources is needed, which is $30 for anyone coming from out-of-state, and another from the state Department of Environmental Quality, which is a $0 cost permit. Prior to 2020, the latter was obtained from the EPA.

Oppenheimer said many people don't follow these rules.

Poe posted online with his organization AMRA about traveling to Idaho to dredge mine.

"(He) often traveled to Idaho with others and had big camps and kind of encouraged people to get out and join him both to dredge but also to refuse to get federal Clean Water Act permits," Bryan Hurlbutt, attorney with Advocates for the West, told Idaho News 6.

Idaho Conservation League decided to use the route of civil litigation since they weren't seeing movement with law enforcement and partnered with environmental law firm Advocates for the West.

“Here in Idaho, we think this may be the largest Clean Water Act civil penalty that a court has imposed against an individual," Hurlbutt said.

The fine of $150,000 is a high price to pay, but it's still only 8% of the maximum penalty for the violations, according to Judge Raymond Patricco's ruling filed Wednesday.

"We are currently discussing our appeal options," Poe said in a statement to Idaho News 6. "We firmly believe the activity involved did not add any form of pollutant, but instead removed toxic metals such as mercury from the waterway. I was also dredging with a valid IDWR dredge permit, which is what the state of Idaho stated was the only requirement to have and therefore permitted and allowed the activity."

Dredge mining is concerning to environmental advocates due to its ability to disrupt endangered fish habitat, leak gas and oil into rivers, and alter streamflows.

“We hope that this sends a message to dredge minors to not dredge illegally in Idaho or anywhere. We hope this also gives courage to officials, state and federal officials to actually take enforcement action on their own so we don't have to," Hurlbutt said.

It remains to be seen whether this case will be appealed.