- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 22, 2014

LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) - Idaho County commissioners have sent a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management asking for guidance concerning a protest planned by suction dredgers upset with federal regulations.

“The parties involved wish to respectfully exercise their right to peaceably assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances,” the letter reads. “They have informed us they will be respectful and orderly in this event and are seeking guidance from the BLM for a successful event.”

Robin Boyce, acting manager for the Cottonwood Field Office, said the BLM is working on a response to the event planned on the Salmon River in central Idaho near Riggins around the Fourth of July, the Lewiston Tribune (https://bit.ly/QCPIVP) reported Tuesday.

“We are still trying to figure out how this would work and when and if it is possible on BLM property,” Boyce said.

John Crossman of the Southwest Idaho Mining Association of Boise said the dredgers plan to run their equipment in the Salmon River. He said the goal of the protest is to remove the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from the state.

The EPA last year ruled that suction dredgers need National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permits to operate in the state. The permits are designed to be easily obtainable by small miners but forbid suction dredges in streams with threatened or endangered species such as salmon, steelhead and bull trout.

Indian reservations and rivers that are part of the National Wild and Scenic River system are also off limits. The restrictions essentially ban dredging in most streams in the Salmon and Clearwater river basins.

Mark MacIntyre, a spokesman for the EPA in Seattle, said the agency wouldn’t speculate on a possible response if miners operate dredges in the river during the protest.

Crossman contends that suction dredging doesn’t add pollutants to the river because it’s only sucking up bottom material before sending it back into the river.

But EPA officials say courts have ruled that the river bottom material re-suspended in water does constitute pollution.

State Rep. Paul Shepherd, R-Riggins, put forward a bill in the Legislature earlier this year that would have declared many EPA restrictions as unconstitutional. But the bill was met with deep skepticism from lawmakers who questioned its legality. An opinion by the Idaho attorney general found the bill was clearly unconstitutional.

The bill failed to advance in the Idaho House.


Information from: Lewiston Tribune, https://www.lmtribune.com

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