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Forest Service gives preliminary nod to updated Stibnite mining plan

Previous mining scars cut into a mountain ridge tower above an open pit pond, which is being fed by a river trickling down a rock bed from the right.
Troy Oppie
Boise State Public Radio
The Yellow Pine pit at the Stibnite site in Valley County, Idaho, as seen in August 2022.

The Forest Service has given a preliminary thumbs-up to a revised plan to resume mining operations at Stibnite near Yellow Pine.

The 1,667-page supplemental draft environmental impact statement from the Forest Service evaluates revisions Canadian mining company Perpetua Resources made to its plans for Stibnite last year. The company modestly reduced the size and scope of its original plan and added a new access road to take mine traffic away from Johnson Creek Road.

The forest service identified Perpetua’s modified plan as its ‘preferred alternative.’ In a press release, the company wrote it was glad that community feedback earlier in the process had made the plan for Stibnite better.

“We are just starting to read the document ourselves, but I can say that we are excited about the plan and we're excited about what we're seeing so far,” Perpetua Vice President for External Affairs McKenzie Lyon said Friday.

Environmental groups say Perpetua’s restoration plans at the site are noble, but the updated mining plan still doesn’t do enough to ensure healthy water temperatures for fish, specifically bull trout.

A 2003 Environmental Protection Agency report identified bull trout as especially vulnerable to human activities which impact water temperatures.

“Bull Trout are the canary in the coal mine,” said John Robison, Idaho Conservation League Public Lands Director.

“Cyanide-leach gold mines tend to be chronic polluters," said Bonnie Gestring, northwest program director at Earthworks. “Our research found that 74% of modern U.S. gold mines resulted in surface or groundwater pollution, despite predicting otherwise.”

Robison said the analysis done by the forest service did not factor in the potential impacts of climate change on water temperatures.

“The Forest Service and the mining company should go back to the drawing board and see how they can address the water quality issue better than in this latest plan,” he told Boise State Public Radio.

Lyon said Perpetua’s most recent plans reduced maximum water temperatures during mining by 5° Celsius from previous versions.

“The improved plan decreases maximum water temperature in the East Fork South Fork, Salmon River by 3.7° Celsius during operations from what it is today, and by the end of the project, water temperature will roughly match what it is today,” she said.

The "end of the project" is considered to be after all mining operations and reclamation work is completed; likely more than two decades from the beginning of construction at the site.

The public now has 75 days to review and comment on the plan. The Forest Service is planning a series of informational open houses in early December:

  • December 6, 2022: McCall, Idaho, Best Western Plus Lodge, 211 South 3rd Street; 5:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
  • December 7, 2022: Cascade, Idaho, American Legion Hall, 105 W. Mill Street; 5:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
  • December 9, 2022: Boise, Idaho, Holiday Inn Express Airport, 3050 South Shoshone Street; 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Conservation groups and Perpetua Resources are also planning their own feedback sessions. The Forest Service says it anticipates being able to issue a final environmental impact statement early in 2023.

Troy Oppie is a reporter and local host of 'All Things Considered' for Boise State Public Radio News.

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