- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 6, 2017

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - In a story June 6 about a proposed central Idaho gold mine, The Associated Press reported erroneously that the historic mining area that contains arsenic and mercury pollution is the source of drinking water for the town of Yellow Pine. The area is a potential source of drinking water, but the town currently gets its water from a stream that doesn’t go through the historic mining area.

A corrected version of the story is below:

Environmental analysis starts for proposed Idaho gold mine

Federal officials have started an environmental analysis of a Canadian company’s proposal for three open-pit gold mines in central Idaho

By KEITH RIDLER

Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - An environmental analysis of a Canadian company’s proposal for three open-pit gold mines in central Idaho has started, federal officials announced.

The U.S. Forest Service said Monday it’s preparing an Environmental Impact Statement for a plan by Midas Gold Corp. to unearth what it says are an estimated 4 million ounces of gold about 3 miles west of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness.

The area contains the eighth-largest known gold reserves among the 50 U.S. states, the company said, and the 20-year project will generate 1,000 well-paying jobs.

The company also said the project will save taxpayers money by cleaning up previous mining activities dating back a century. That mining left two open pits - one now filled with water that has been blocking a salmon and steelhead spawning stream since the 1930s.

The company said its mining plan includes reopening those pits and, when finished, restoring the area so the stream can again be used by salmon and steelhead. A third new open pit will also be opened.

McKinsey Lyon, spokeswoman for Midas Gold Idaho, a subsidiary of Midas Gold Corp., said modern mining makes reopening the pits economically feasible. She also said modern techniques make it economically feasible to process spent tailings at the site to recover gold past miners missed, resulting in removing tailings that are themselves a source of pollution.

“We feel that we can clean up an area that has been abandoned after 100 years of mining,” Lyon said.

That’s an intriguing aspect for federal officials considering the 1,500-acre mining site mostly on the Payette and Boise national forests in Valley County. In 2015, a U.S. Geological Survey report found more extensive arsenic and mercury pollution than previously thought in the area that could potentially be a drinking-water supply source for the nearby town of Yellow Pine, which currently gets its water from a stream that doesn’t pass through the proposed mining area.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency since the 1990s has spent $4 million trying to clean up the Stibnite Mining Area, and is taking part in the environmental analysis for the new mining plan. “EPA has an ongoing role and interest in ensuring the integrity of the agency’s past Superfund cleanup and stabilization work in the area,” the agency said in a statement to The Associated Press.

If mining is approved, said Payette National Forest spokesman Brian Harris, the company would be required to do reclamation work. “The hope is that, based on modern techniques, the end state would be better than it is right now,” he said.

The company would have to post a reclamation bond that, should the company go bankrupt or stop work for some other reason, there’d be money to restore the area, Harris said. The amount of the reclamation bond hasn’t yet been determined.

John Robison of the Idaho Conservation League said the project should involve less new disturbance to the area and more watershed restoration. “I think that there are several potential outcomes, one of which is the site is better, and several scenarios in which it could be worse,” he said.

Public meetings are planned for the end of June and comments are being taken by the Forest Service through July 20.

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