BOISE, Idaho — The Payette National Forest has released a supplemental draft environmental impact statement on Perpetua Resources proposed changes to its Stibnite Gold Project, it's a project we have been following for years.
This past week the forest service held an open house in McCall, Cascade and Boise to educated the public on the proposed project and inform the public on how to comment on the changes in the supplemental draft EIS.
"In August of 2020 we released a draft environmental impact statement after that the proponent for the project changed how they wanted to do the mining on the ground," said Brian Harris of the Payette National Forest. "We needed to share what those changes may or may not have on the natural resources."
Mining at Stibnite dates back pre-World War II and impacts from legacy mining can still be seen on sight today, earlier this summer Perpetua Resources started cleaning up some of those impacts, but conservation groups have been worried that the answer to cleaning up the area is not more mining.
The site is east of Yellow Pine near the headwaters of the East Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon River which flows into the South Fork of the Salmon River and eventually into the Main Salmon River, it's an area where anglers, hunters, kayakers and people can recreate in the Idaho outdoors.
Perpetua Resources wants to mine mainly for gold and silver, but also antimony, it would be the only domestic supply of antimony, a mineral that can be used to build semi-conductors or microchips that are used in producing electronics.
Perpetua Resources reworked their proposal at the Stibnite Mine site following the last public comment period on their draft environmental impact statement.
"This study shows we have improved water quality reducing arsenic in the East Fork of the South Fork Salmon River by 40 percent, we’ve reduced water temperature by five degrees Celsius from the last plan and overall we have reduced the project by 13 percent," said Mckinsey Lyon of Perpetua Resources. "These are real changes that comes from listening to the public throughout this process."
Perpetua Resources will eliminate waste rock storage areas on site, they will add a new route for trucks that will bypass the road to Yellow Pine, they will reduce the Hangar Flats pit by 70 percent and completely backfill it, modify ore processing circuit to improve tailings chemistry, add geosynthetic covers to protect water quality, add flow channels for water temperature and develop habitat for bull trout.
The proposed mine site is 1,740 acres, an acre is 32 percent smaller than a football field, so doing the math helped us put the site into perspective that it would be the equivalent of 556 football fields.
Conservation groups like Idaho Rivers United and the Idaho Conservation league have been vocal against this project and they don't believe Perpetua has gone far enough to protect the South Fork of the Salmon watershed in this latest supplemental draft EIS.
The Idaho Conservation League has concerns about transporting the hazardous materials from the site and out along Highway 55, they worry about what will happen if everything doesn't go according to plan, but they also have concerns on the impacts to wildlife and mainly what will happen to bull trout, salmon and steelhead habitat.
"We think it is going to make things worse for the fish," said John Robison of the Idaho Conservation League who cited page the Fisheries Specialist Report on page 150. "In fact the forest service says that post closure there will be a net decrease in quantity and quality of bull trout habitat would occur despite fish passage barriers and an increase in lake habitat for bull trout."
Idaho Lawmakers have overwhelmingly been in support of the project, we met people at the open house for, against and on the fence about the project and the public has until January 10 to submit their comments.
"We need comments on how the project is really set up," said Harris. "Have we thought about this, have we thought about that, those are the type of comments that really help us move forward in the rest of our NEPA process."