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Idaho Conservation League wins lawsuit against California gold miner

A view of the South Fork of the Clearwater River
Joe Nuxoll
Idaho Fish and Game
A view of the South Fork of the Clearwater River

A federal judge has ordered a California gold miner to pay a $150,000 fine after repeatedly dredge mining in an Idaho river without the proper permits.

Shannon Poe will also be banned from dredge mining the South Fork of the Clearwater River until he obtains the correct permits, according to the order issued Wednesday.

Federal Magistrate Judge Raymond Patricco said there is no dispute Poe repeatedly dredge mined the river in 2014, 2015 and 2018.

“These violations are unquestionably serious. They not only violated the law but also caused environmental harm by lowering water quality,” Patricco said

Dredge mining sucks up sediment from the riverbed to filter minerals and can affect water quality.

The Idaho Conservation League (ICL), along with Advocates for the West, sued Poe in 2018 after threatening legal action several times if he didn’t secure a federal permit under the Clean Water Act. The court sided with the groups in 2021 and has been considering a penalty ever since.

In court documents, Poe argued his attorney told him multiple times he didn’t need to get a federal permit and that his state permits would suffice.

The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality now administers those pollution permits as of 2020. Rules for protected waters, like the South Fork of the Clearwater River, limit the number of dredgers, authorize what type of equipment can be used and where people can mine.

ICL had initially asked Patricco to levy a roughly $565,000 fine and bar Poe from dredging anywhere in Idaho until he complied with permitting requirements.

Still, Jonathan Oppenheimer, the group’s chief lobbyist, said they’re satisfied with the ruling.

“We feel that this is a significant fine and it was well worth our effort to document and track and bring this litigation,” Oppenheimer said.

He believes it will deter other dredge miners – who Oppenheimer noted largely follow the rules – from skirting permitting laws.

“Whoever we are, whatever we like to do on our public lands, rivers and streams in Idaho, it’s important that we follow the rules because those are meant to protect us all,” he said.

Poe’s attorneys didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Editor's note: Idaho Conservation League and Advocates for the West are both recent sponsors of Boise State Public Radio, but had no knowledge of, nor participated in, the writing and editing of this article.

I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season. If you have a tip, please get in touch!

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