April 25, 2014 in Idaho

Lawsuit seeking to block gold mine testing finds fault with agencies’ OK

Keith Ridler Associated Press
 

BOISE – A conservation group and the Nez Perce Tribe have filed a lawsuit against three federal agencies, seeking to stop a central Idaho gold-mine exploration project by a Canadian company.

The tribe and the Idaho Conservation League filed the lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Idaho against the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service.

The lawsuit contends the agencies didn’t adhere to federal environmental laws in approving the three-year Golden Meadows Exploration Project proposed by Midas Gold Inc., a Boise-based branch of Midas Gold Corp., headquartered in Vancouver, B.C.

Company officials in Boise didn’t return a call from the Associated Press on Thursday.

The company wants to drill about 178 exploratory holes in 26 areas. The plan includes using roads running through the Payette and Boise national forests in Valley County. The company hopes to determine the feasibility of creating three open-pit gold mines. The area has a history of gold mining.

The lawsuit said the plan calls for 43,800 one-way vehicle trips over the three years to move equipment and bring in about 3 million gallons of fuel. The routes follow winding roads near the South Fork of the Salmon River and two of its tributaries: Johnson Creek and the East Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon River.

Those streams contain chinook salmon, steelhead and bull trout, each listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The Forest Service in July issued an environmental assessment of the project, and the federal agencies late last year approved the project after issuing a notice finding that it would cause no significant impact.

The lawsuit contends the Forest Service should have done a more involved environmental impact statement and considered sediment buildup in streams because of increased truck traffic. The lawsuit also says the Forest Service failed to fully consider the potential hazards of fuel spills.

The Forest Service’s failure to carry out a more thorough study is a violation of the National Environmental Protection Act, the lawsuit says. That act requires the agency to consider detailed information concerning environmental impacts and that the information be made public.

Dave Olson, public affairs officer for the Boise National Forest, said Thursday that the agency couldn’t comment on pending litigation.

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