- Associated Press - Thursday, June 6, 2019

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - A mining company facing a potential lawsuit by the Nez Perce Tribe over pollution at a historic mining area in central Idaho is not to blame for the pollution because it has never mined there, the company said Thursday.

Midas Gold Corp. in a statement said more than a century of mining by other companies in the area about 3 miles (5 kilometers) west of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness is to blame for the pollution. Companies owned by Midas Gold acquired mining claims in the area starting in 2011 and then acquired claims owned by other companies.

“Midas Gold did not cause the current water quality issues at the site,” the company said. “The company’s actions have been limited to studying current conditions in the district, evaluating the optimal solutions for remediation and restoration and presenting those solutions to the regulators responsible for the site.”

In 2016, Midas Gold Idaho submitted plans to the U.S. Forest Service to occupy and use forest lands for an open-pit gold mine and ore processing facilities. The company said it will clean up the site if its plan is approved by federal authorities. The company has said the area in the headwaters of the South Fork of the Salmon River contains an estimated 4 million ounces (113 million grams) of gold.

Federal authorities are in the process of analyzing the company’s plan as part of an environmental review and permitting process.

The Nez Perce Tribe on Wednesday issued a 60-day notice of its intent to sue the company for what it said are violations of the federal Clean Water Act. The tribe said that it has fishing, hunting, gathering and pasturing rights to the area reserved in an 1855 treaty with the United States.

“Midas Gold’s unlawful discharge of pollutants into the waters within and below their proposed Stibnite Gold Mine threatens the Nez Perce Treaty rights,” Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee Chairman Shannon F. Wheeler said in a statement. “Contrary to their public promises, the data clearly show that Midas Gold is harming the environment.”

Previous mining dates back a century and has left two open pits - one now filled with water that has been blocking a salmon and steelhead spawning stream since the 1930s. The site also has extensive tailings left over from mining operations that are the source of elevated levels of arsenic. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has spent $4 million since the 1990s trying to clean up the area.

Midas Gold has said modern mining makes reopening the pits economically feasible. The company said it would process spent tailings at the site to recover gold past miners missed, resulting in removing tailings that are themselves a source of pollution.

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