YELLOW PINE, Idaho — Perpetua Resources, formerly Midas Gold submitted a new alternative at the beginning of 2021, this summer the forest service decided that this proposal will need to go through another public comment period.
Perpetua Resources says they improved their plan to mine for gold, silver and antimony as they propose mining in the existing two pits and digging another one at Hanger Flats.
This plan would reduce the volume of mined materials by ten percent, Perpetua would eliminate a 168-acre storage facility and reduce the Hanger Flats pit by 70 percent, that pit would be built on an existing hazardous area that is buried with toxic tailing.
"We have been able that improve water temperature, improve water quality and reduce the size of the overall footprint," said McKinsey Lyon of Perpetua Resources. "The public will have another opportunity to see this refined and improved project and comment on it next year."
The Idaho Conservation League and Idaho Rivers United say Perpetua tried to move the goal post on this new alternative and they are pleased to see the forest service require a supplemental environmental impact statement.
"None of the potential effects of this new alternative have been analyzed and we have some serious concerns about water quality, air quality and fisheries habitat," said Randy Fox of the Idaho Conservation League. "Hopefully those will be addressed in this supplemental environmental impact statement.”
The history of mining at Stibnite dates back to 1899 and the mine played a pivotal role in World War II supplying the allied forces with tungsten and antimony which helped the U.S. build munitions.
However, the legacy impacts from this mine continue to impact the headwaters of the East Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon River and the spawning habitat for spring chinook, steelhead and bull trout is blocked by the Yellow Pine pit.
Perpetua Resources has committed to restoring this area before mining but during this process conservation groups, Native American Tribes and recreators have spoken out saying the answer to cleaning up Stibnite is not more mining.
But the closest town Yellow Pine overwhelmingly supports the project for the business the mine would bring to the area, but they also tell us Perpetua Resources have been a good neighbor.
One example they gave happened when a local wanted Perpetua to reroute the access road to the mine to not only keep it away from the river but keep an area where residents like to recreate open and residents say through the process Perpetua has not only listened but acted on some of these suggestions.
"They are going to go up there and mine an already disturbed and destroyed area and fix it and that is fabulous because we like our outdoors that is why we live here," said Deb Filler of Yellow Pine. "I have no reason not to believe in what they say to us and I have read the plan all 5,000 pages."
The main purpose of the mine is to dig for gold that is where Perpetua will make their money, but in addition, they will also pull out antimony one of 35 critical resources the United States has listed, but 90 percent of this mineral is controlled by China, Russia and Tajikistan,
"Antimony is critical for munitions and infrared technology, in the technology industry antimony is needed for semi-conductors and in energy, you will find antimony as a glass clarifier in solar panels, you will find it in the babbitt bearings of wind turbines and in all types of wiring," said Lyon.
Perpetua also has plans to re-fill the Yellow Pine Pit and the Hangar Flats Pit when they finish mining after 15 years, they told us the upper pit would be too difficult to re-fill but it is part of a restoration plan where money will be allocated before the company begins digging,
"We have to calculate with our regulatory agencies the true cost of restoration based on every tree that needs to be planted, based on all of the workforces that would have to come in and do that work, plus additional contingencies assuming something happened to the company and we couldn’t finish the work it would be guaranteed to be finished by that money set aside before the project could ever begin," said Lyon.
Both the Idaho Conservation League and Idaho Rivers United doesn't believe enough money will be allocated and let's face it mining doesn't have a good track record when it comes to environmental impact.
Lyon tells us this is a new generation of mining, but conservation organizations can't see a reason to risk more damage to the East Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon River which dumps into the south fork and then the Main Salmon before joining up with the Snake which merges into the Columbia and runs to the Pacific Ocean.
"This project has too many unanswered questions for us to support it moving forward," said Fox. "We just don’t see how this project is good for Idaho’s environment.”
Around 10,000 people commented on the original environmental impact statement and it continues to be a developing story with more to come in 2021.
Perpetua did tell us they will take people on a tour of the mine and this would be a good weekend especially if you are heading up for the Yellow Pine Music and Harmonica Festival.