BOISE, Idaho — Mining at the Stibnite Mine east of Yellow Pine near the headwaters of the South Fork of the Salmon River dates back a hundred years, this mine was a critical component to the United States war effort in World War II.
However, environmental impacts from legacy mining remain, Perpetua Resources formerly known as Midas Gold who wants to open another large gold mine, has started the process of cleaning up some of those impacts they did not create.
"Today, that waste is integrating with both ground and service water degrading water quality with both arsenic and antimony," said McKinsey Lyon of Perpetua Resources. "So with this early action clean up we started this week, we get to be part of the solution."
Phase one of the clean-up comes after a settlement agreement between Perpetua Resources and the forest service and the Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA states this effort is expected to improve habitat and reduce harmful metals through sediment removal and three stream diversions.
"We appreciate efforts to clean up abandon mine sites, but we are really concerned about Perpetua’s larger open pit mine plan for the area," said John Robison of the Idaho Conservation League. "We are concerned that if proceeding as proposed that would actually increase the the amount of pollution and contamination."
The South Fork of the Salmon River runs through pristine wilderness, but it doesn't have the protections of its neighbor the Middle Fork.
The tribes, anglers, boaters and conservation groups have come out against the Stibnite Mine, saying the answer to cleaning up legacy mining is not to engage in more mining.
"If you go beyond the press releases from the company and you actually look at the impacts that Idahoans would bear we have significant concerns," said Robison. "The plans we have seen so far simply aren’t worth the risk."
The forest service decided there needs to be an environmental review review of Perpetua's revised plan they submitted in the beginning of 2021, last summer we took a tour of the mine site.
That plan would reduce the volume of mining by ten percent, eliminate a 168-acre storage facility and reduce the Hanger Flats pit by 70 percent, Hanger Flats is one of three proposed pits in the plan.
"The Stibnite Gold Project is based on the vision that we can go back to this abandoned mine site and use a robust mineral resource of gold that still exists today, to provide the resources to restore the environmental conditions of this abandoned mine site, but also produce a critical mineral antimony," said Lyon.
Idaho lawmakers have overwhelmingly supported the proposed mine, mainly for economic reasons, but Stibnite would be the only mined antimony in the country.
"That is important because today 90 percent of the worlds antimony is controlled by China, Russia and Tajikistan," said Lyon. "But we need it antimony is absolutely essential in products that we use every day from semi conductors, to cell phones, to clean energy batteries storage that are needed for our clean energy transition and munitions for the Department of Defense, so if we don’t have a supply of antimony here in this country that we can control our access to and that we can control, our environmental and ethical considerations of the ethical productions itself, our national security, our energy future and our economic future are at risk."
There will be a new public comment period when the forest releases the updated environmental impact statement, that is expected to happen this fall, the Idaho Conservation League remains against the project.
"Over 90 percent of the profits are from gold so this really is a gold mine and only five percent are from antimony," said Robison. "For our renewable energy needs, we think we need to develop critical minerals in a way that doesn’t put our watersheds at risk, particularly the South Fork of the Salmon River."
Both sides say they welcome the public comment period and a decision of record could happen in 2023, we will make sure to keep you updated on the Stibnite Mine.