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Forest Service OKs mining bulldozers in wilderness

PUBLIC LANDS — The Wilderness Act is colliding with federal mining laws in a famed protected roadless area in Central Idaho — and the mining laws rule.

Payette National Forest Supervisor Keith Lannom has decided to allow miners to bring dump trucks and bulldozers into the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, the Idaho Statesman reported Tuesday.

Lannom approved allowing American Independence Mines and Minerals Co. to upgrade a trail back to a road to prove up a claim made prior to the establishment of the wilderness area in 1980. A federal court ordered the Forest Service in 2002 to allow the prospecting of the Golden Hand Mine, located near Big Creek in Valley County.

“This work is being approved to ensure that valid rights exist,” Lannom said. “To do that, the mining claimant must be allowed to show they have made a discovery.”

Federal mining laws and the Wilderness Act allow for mining valid claims made prior to protection of the area. The Idaho Conservation League had urged Lannom to instead require the mining company to make its workers walk into the site and to use helicopters and horses to carry necessary equipment into the area.

“We do understand that this project will impact the wilderness character in the project area by allowing for motorized transportation within the wilderness area,” said Lannom. “We have determined that this course of action will reduce the negative impacts to the greatest extent possible while complying with federal laws and the court order.”

Lannom said limiting access to foot and horses would not allow the miner his full rights.

Read more here: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2015/06/23/3865308_forest-service-approves-trucks.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy


Hecla to focus on Rock Creek mine in Cabinets

WILDERNESS — The future owners of the Troy Mine confirmed its closure Monday, while committing to move forward on the nearby Rock Creek Mine plan to drill underneath the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness in northwest Montana, the Missoulian reports.

Hecla announced it was acquiring Revett Mining Co.’s Troy Mine and its Rock Creek Mine last month in a $20 million merger. The deal is expected to close in midyear. Hecla is one of the 10 largest copper and silver mining companies in the United States.

The Rock Creek Mine is expected to have its supplemental environmental impact statement for further exploratory shaft work done in mid-2015. The mine site is located between the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness and the proposed Scotchman Peaks wilderness area.

Says the Missoulian:

Some environmental groups in the region have challenged the Rock Creek proposal in court, arguing it could hurt water supplies for threatened bull trout and grizzly bears. However, other wilderness advocates have praised Revett’s track record of cooperation with environmental concerns

Mining moratorium hearing tonight

Spokane County says the moratorium will seriously impact its use of a county-owned site near Tschirley, east of the Spokane Business and Industrial Park, which the county was planning on turning into a gravel pit. Get background on the moratorium here


Gold mine is knocking on The Frank’s door

Updated 1-6-15 with more details from the Associated Press.

PUBLIC LANDS — Debate continues over another collision of two actions of Congress — the 1972 Mining Act and the 1964 Wilderness Act.

There could be a way to keep gold mine out of Idaho wilderness
The 1964 Wilderness Act contains a compromise provision that protects existing mining claims, and now one of those mining claims, the Golden Hand gold mine near the center of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness in Idaho is on the cusp of being developed. However, there is a precedent that could be followed to stop the mine: President Clinton's successful plan to stop Noranda's New World Gold Mine just outside Yellowstone National Park. A column by Rocky Barker.
—Idaho Statesman

Here's more from the Associated Press:

Company seeks to mine gold in central Idaho wilderness


By KEITH RIDLER/Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho  — The U.S. Forest Service is taking public comments on its approval of a gold mining company’s plan to reopen a 4-mile road in a central Idaho wilderness and drill core samples to find out if two of its claims are profitable enough to be mined.

Public comments are being taken through Feb. 23 on American Independence Mines and Minerals Co.’s plan in the Frank Church River Of No Return Wilderness. Federal authorities require claim holders to prove claims are profitable before mining starts.

The 45-page Draft Record of Decision filed Friday and first reported by the Idaho Statesman notes that the company already has three claims validated as profitable in the Payette National Forest.

The plan authorizes the company to make 571 motorized trips into the wilderness area to build 11 drill pads. Vehicles would include four-wheel-drive pickups, a dump truck, a flatbed truck, a bulldozer and a small excavator.

The Forest Service said mining is allowed in the wilderness as the result of negotiations leading up to the wilderness designation. Before mining is allowed, however, the company has to prove the mines can be profitable in a process called validation.

“They have to validate these claims before they can extract minerals from them,” said Brian Harris, Payette National Forest spokesman. “If the two claims prove to be valid, then the next step is for the owner to submit a complete plan.”

Mining began in the area in 1889, and the company wants to shore up one of the mines to see if it still can produce gold.

John Robison of the Idaho Conservation League, however, said he’s concerned the company is seeking deposits in new areas, a move he said violates what is allowed in the wilderness. “It appears to be more of a treasure hunt looking for new mineral deposits rather than confirming old ones,” he said.

Robison also said the organization is concerned that the mining company plans to use methods and equipment that go beyond the minimum required under wilderness rules.

Another concern, he said, is that the mine is near Big Creek, which feeds into the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, home to salmon, steelhead and bull trout. “We’re going to carefully review the document and then make sure Idaho’s wilderness values and clean water are protected,” Robison said.

Canada’s massive mining dam failure reinforces opposition to Pebble Mine in Alaska

FISHING — Just as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has opened another round of comments on the controversial proposal to authorized the Pebble Mine near the headwaters of Alaska's prized Bristol Bay salmon fisheries, a disaster in Canada has struck an emphatic case in point.

Monday’s devastating tailings dam failure at the Mount Polley copper mine in British Columbia sent an estimated 4.5 million cubic meters of mine waste solids and 2.6 billion gallons of mine waste liquids into streams, rivers, and lakes in the headwaters of the Fraser River watershed. 

  • See an aerial survey of the impacts in the video above.

The massive release of materials from a mine tailings pond near Quesnel is “virtually impossible to clean up,” according to a marine researcher — and may have already damaged salmon habitat beyond repair.

Dr. Peter Ross heads Vancouver Aquarium’s ocean pollution research program and said on Wednesday the spill likely spells death for the fish that use the affected waterways.

Missoula-based Bonnie Gestring makes a few sobering comparisons between the Mount Polley Mine in a post on Earth Island Journal:

  • Both mines are large, open pit, copper porphyry mines at the headwaters of important salmon streams.
  • The company behind the proposed Pebble Mine, the Pebble Limited Partnership, has repeatedly pointed to the Fraser River as an example of a watershed where mining and fish can coexist.
  • Knight Piesold, the firm that provided designs for the tailings pond lifts at Mount Polley, also provided the designs for the tailings pond for the proposed Pebble Mine.

Moreover, a consulting firm in 2011 warned the British Columbia Ministry of the Environment that a contingency plan was needed should the tailings pond holding mining waste at the Mount Polley Mine fail.  No contingencies were made.

"It is the toxic time bomb explosion that all of us who've fought the Pebble Mine have predicted could happen," writes of the National Resource Defense Council in the Huffington Post.

The Environmental Protection Agency has already taken the first step to stop development of the Pebble Mine under the Clean Water Act, but the agency opened up the process for one more public comment period before making a final decision.

Care to comment?

  • Here's an update and another video from the Vancouver Sun.

What will North Dakota look like after the oil boom?

Quote of the day:

"Our economy is really looking good. But now it's time to turn around and start protecting our land, guys."

Mervin Packineau, a tribal councilman, speaking at the Three Affiliated Tribes' third annual oil and gas conference in North Dakota on Tuesday.
— Billings Gazette

Republicans stall North Fork Flathead protections

WILD RIVERS — Three U.S. senators have rebuked their Montana colleagues by blocking a floor vote on legislation to protect the North Fork Flathead River, the Associated Press reports. 

Democratic U.S. Sens. Jon Tester and John Walsh of Montana called for the vote this afternoon. They are sponsoring the bill, which would bar mining and oil and gas development on hundreds of thousands of acres of federal land west of Glacier National Park.  
The Flathead Beacon reports Republican Sen. Pat Toomey objected on behalf of Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.  
A similar measure by Montana Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Daines passed the House last month.  
Daines says the Democratic Senate majority could pass the bill if it wanted to.  
Walsh spokeswoman Andrea Helling says a Republican procedural move is blocking the vote.   

More looks at EPA stand on Alaska’s Pebble Mine

FISHING — The EPA announcement last week that it will be a force against the proposed Pebble Mine that threatens salmon stocks in Alaska's Bristol Bay shook some ground last week.

Here are some more looks at the situation.

EPA to fight proposed copper mine in Alaska's Bristol Bay watershed
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said the proposed open-pit copper mine in the Bristol Bay watershed in Alaska posed too much of a threat to the water and the salmon spawning grounds in one of the world's best fisheries.
—New York Times; February 28

Alaska's Bristol Bay through the lens of a National Geographic photographer
Photographer Michael Melford's photographs taken for a 2010 National Geographic feature on the dispute about the Pebble Mine project in the watershed for Alaska's Bristol Bay, an important salmon spawning area and fishery.
National Geographic Daily News; March 2

EPA scrutinizes Pebble Mine impact on Bristol Bay salmon

UPDATED 3:55 p.m. on Feb. 28 with link to Associated Press story and comment from Pebble Mine official that EPA action is a "major overreach."

FISHING — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today it will use its Clean Water Act authorities to review impacts of a controversial proposed mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska.  

The proposed mine is opposed by anglers and conservationists from Alaska south along the Pacific Coast for the extreme risk it would present to the nation's greatest salmon fisheries.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-WA, applauded the EPA action, noting that the Pebble Mine could have devastating effects on Washington state’s fishing industry, which employs thousands of workers in the Pacific Northwest and contributes more than $670 million to the regional economy each year. 

  • Tom Collier, CEO of the Pebble Limited Partnership, which is working to advance the mine project, called the EPA process a "major overreach" in today's story by the Associated Press

The EPA action announced today prohibits the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from issuing permits for a mine until review developing the environmental criteria for permitting is complete. The EPA has asked the Army Corps, the state of Alaska, and the mine project sponsor to provide evidence that the mine would not negatively impact water quality or aquatic resources, including the many fish species in the region.

Reaction includes:

Sen. Patty Murray said:

“I applaud the EPA for recognizing the real threat posed by this shortsighted mining proposal and taking action to protect Washington state’s fishing families,” said Sen.  Murray.  “The EPA’s Watershed Assessment has demonstrated that large scale mining such as the proposed Pebble Mine would devastate this critical industry that supports thousands of local families and contributes hundreds of millions of dollars to the regional economy.”


--Sen. Maria Cantwell said:

“I applaud this action today to protect Northwest fishing jobs from being destroyed by the largest open pit mine in North America,” said Cantwell. “Washington and Alaska fishermen depend on Bristol Bay for their livelihoods. Ruining headwaters with mining pollution is too big a risk to existing jobs in Pacific Northwest.

“Today, the administration is saying that potential gold mining is not more important than a $1.5 billion sockeye fishing industry. Gold might be an valuable commodity but it’s not more important than Pacific Northwest salmon.

“Wild salmon populations already face a number of threats,” Cantwell added. “Adding mining pollution to the spawning ground for the world’s number one sockeye salmon fishery doesn't make economic sense. Mining pollution could threaten 14,000 fishing jobs and a critical food source that subsistence fishermen depend on. I will work hard to ensure that fishermen have a voice as the 404C process moves forward. We cannot afford to put thousands of fishing jobs at risk.”

In June 2013, Murray and four other West Coast senators wrote a letter to President Obama calling the Administration to factor in the impact a permit for a mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska, would have on the West Coast fishing industry.   

Earlier this year, the EPA released a watershed assessment that details the potential impacts of a large scale mine development near Bristol Bay. 

Read on for a sampling of reaction from sportsman and environmental groups:

Cantwell asks Obama to limit mining in Bristol Bay

FISHING — U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell is asking President Barack Obama to take action to restrict or prohibit the development of large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed.

The Associated Press reports that In a letter sent Thursday, Cantwell asked Obama to invoke a rarely used authority under the federal Clean Water Act to protect the region that is home to the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery.

The Democratic senator says thousands of jobs in Washington state are tied to Bristol Bay salmon fishing.

She, fishermen and others are rallying against the proposed Pebble Mine Thursday in Seattle.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a report last week concluding that large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed poses significant risks salmon.

Pebble Limited Partnership spokesman Mike Heatwole says Cantwell’s request is unprecedented and has never been used before a resource project has filed for permits. He says “it flies in the face of due process.”

He also criticized the EPA document as a political report intended to harm the project’s ability to apply for permits. 

Idaho mine claim owners sue over forest access

PUBLIC LANDS — Several Idaho mining claim owners have sued the federal government, joining a push to expand motorized access in the West’s backcountry using a Civil War-era law governing travel across public lands, according to the Associated Press.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Boise, argues the U.S. Forest Service illegally restricted use of four roads in Idaho County.

It’s similar to Utah lawsuits that were partially resolved this year when the federal government unlocked three gates, allowed all-terrain vehicles into the state’s western desert.

The Idaho County case was brought by 13 people with mining claims reached via roads extending deep into the Nez Perce National Forest.

The lawsuit contends federal Forest Service officials outstripped their authority by barring motorized access on roads used for more than a century for mining and recreation. 

Click "continue reading" for the expanded version of the AP story with more details and context.

SR: Old Law Protects Idaho River

A federal administrative law judge has ruled that the recreational and cultural uses of the North Fork of the Clearwater River are a former dam site more valuable than the gold placer miners might have dredged from the bottom. What irony. And what a relief. The great dams that block flows on the Northwest’s largest rivers are lamented by many who regret the damage done to wild fish runs, and the loss of land and communities submerged beneath reservoirs. Other watersheds, such as the Coeur d’Alene River basin, were despoiled by mining. But thanks to an obscure law that surrendered the rights to future federal hydroelectric dam development, those basins where the water still flowed freely were granted special protections/Spokesman-Review Editorial Board. More here.

Question: Are you thankful for federal laws that protect public lands?

Suction dredge mining rejected on Clearwater’s North Fork

A federal administrative law judge has rejected plans for suction dredge mining along a prized cutthroat trout stream in northern Idaho, the Lewiston Tribune reports. Judge Robert Holt, with the U.S. Department of Interior, concluded that recreation opportunities like fishing and camping and the archaeological history along the North Fork of the Clearwater River trump the miners' quest to pull gold from streambed. In the last several years, at least 30 placer claims have been filed along a 30-mile stretch of the river that runs through the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest. Click below for a full report from the Lewiston Tribune via the AP.

Interior Secretary Jewell keynotes Ducks Unlimited convention


PUBLIC LANDS — Interior Secretary Sally Jewell will speak at the annual  Ducks Unlimited convention this week during a visit to Portland in her first West Coast trip since she was sworn in last month.

Today Jewell and Portland Mayor Charlie Hales are set to announce nearly two dozen conservation projects to help boost youth employment, the Department of the Interior says.

On Friday, she, Gov. John Kitzhaber and a representative from Washington Gov. Jay Inslee will sign an agreement to speed the review and permitting of energy generation and power transmission projects in the Northwest.

Swan deaths: annual spring disgrace continues along CdA River

ENVIRONMENT – I received the following email from a reader this morning:

Last Sunday my wife and I were riding our bikes on the Trail of the Coeur d'Alene's between Rose Lake and Harrison. Along the way, we saw what appeared to be a significant number of dead swans. I probably know the answer, but is it the heavy metals in the area that are the cause of their demise?

The Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes is a paved rail trail over a corridor used for a century to transport the produce of mining prosperity and its toxic aftermath. One of the benefits of the conversion to a recreational trail is that it  exposes more eyes to the issue of heavy metals pollution still lingering in the Silver Valley.

The saddest indicators are the carcasess of 150 or so tundra swans that die slow, agonizing deaths in our backyard during their migration stopover on the Lower Coeur d’Alene River.

It’s not a pretty sight, but your head's in the sand if you don’t see the carnage and the reasons for it.

Read on.

Interior Secretary Jewell leads reporter to fresh air for interview

PUBLIC LANDS — Sally Jewell puts her best foot forward….

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell hits the trail in her new role

New York Times Reporter John M. Broder recently joined recently confirmed Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on a hike in order to talk about her new role of managing public lands.

Interior serves as steward for approximately 20 percent of the nation’s lands, including national parks, national wildlife refuges, and other public lands; oversees the responsible development of conventional and renewable energy supplies on public lands and waters; is the largest supplier and manager of water in the 17 Western states; and upholds trust responsibilities to the 566 federally recognized American Indian tribes and Alaska Natives.

Jewell is no stranger to the mountains, as you can see in the 2010 photo (above) taken as she was climbing Mount Rainier.

EPA issues new suction dredge mining rules, includes closure of Salmon River main stem

The Environmental Protection Agency has issued a new permit and rules for recreational miners who use small-scale suction dredging equipment to explore for gold in rivers and creeks across Idaho, the AP reports.The new rules include an outright closure on the Salmon River, main stems of the state's biggest rivers and waters passing through all tribal lands. The federal permit — the first of its kind for Idaho — was designed to ensure miners adhered to the Clean Water Act and protect water quality and spawning habitat for salmon, steelhead, bull trout and other species yet still provide opportunities for the hundreds of recreational miners that set up on Idaho's rivers and streams each summer and fall; click below for a full report from AP reporter Todd Dvorak.

Canada mines taint Elk River fishery in B.C., threaten downstream fisheries

FISHERIES — A new study says a metal-like element called selenium is leeching from coal mines into the Elk river drainage in southeastern British Columbia, threatening fish habitat in Canada and downstream in Montana.

The study found five coal mines in the Elk River Valley are causing toxic pollution, and four of the coal mines are planning expansions.

The Elk River in the area near Fernie, British Columbia, is a fishing stream prized by fly fishers.

The Missoulian reports a new coal mine proposal and three exploration projects are also under way.

The executive director of a conservation group called Wildsight says the selenium affects reproductive organs in fish and could lead to a population collapse.

The Elk River joins the Kootenai River at Lake Koocanusa.

The study was commissioned by Glacier National Park and carried out by the University of Montana’s Ric Hauer and Erin Sexton.

Expect more information on this alarming development.

North Fork Clearwater River mining challenged

FISHING — Idaho fly fishers and conservation groups are stepping up to back the Clearwater National Forest in challenging the rash of placer mining claims being filed for the North Fork of the Clearwater River.

A stream known for its native bull trout and westslope cutthroats is being seen as a honey-hole for miners with suction dredges.  At least 36 mining claims have been filed along a 30-mile stretch of the river.

Tell that to your egg-sucking leech.

Kudos to the Kelly Creek Fly Casters and the Friends of the Clearwater for joining the cause. The Forest Service will need all the help it can get.  

A relatively small number of miners have legal rights to dredge for gold — and screw with the attraction for thousands of recreationists — based on the Mining Rights Restoration Act of 1955 and the archaic Mining Act of 1872.

But at least the laws give the Forest Service the ability ask for a hearing before the Interior Board of Land Appeals to determine if placer mining will interfere with other uses.

If you were on the North Fork last summer and saw the "keep away from private property" signs along riverside claims, you got just a surface hint of what could come.

Another $65 million geared to mitigating mining damage to Clark Fork River

RIVERS — The riches of the Butte-area mining have evaporated in Western Montana as the federal government continues to try to undo the century-old environmental havoc the leftover heavy metals contributed to the Clark Fork River.

The $100-million project to remove Milltown Dam is complete.

Here's the latest step on the course back to a natural river, and wonderful fishery.

Final plan to clean up Upper Clark Fork River in Montana approved

The Trustee Restoration Council charged with allocating the funds from Montana's settlement with Atlantic Richfield Co. over natural resource damage caused by decades of mining in the Upper Clark Fork River Basin signed off on a 20-year plan that will fund $65.5 million worth of projects crafted to improve water and land in Anaconda, Elliston, Drummond and Missoula, and another $40 million on groundwater projects in Butte and Anaconda, and now Gov. Brian Schweitzer must sign off on the plan. — Helena Independent Record

South Fork Salmon River targeted for gold mining

RIVERS — The Idaho Conservation League has petitioned the U.S. Forest Service, asking the agency to reconsider allowing more gold exploration near the headwaters of the South Fork of the Salmon River.

See the story:

Idaho group asks USFS to reconsider gold mining near Salmon River

Idaho Statesman (AP); Nov. 21

Idaho group drops lawsuit over Salmon River dredging

RIVERS —  An Idaho conservation group has dropped its lawsuit challenging state approval of a plan to dredge a stretch of the Salmon River for gold, according to the Associated Press.

The Idaho Conservation League backed away from its lawsuit last week mainly because the Mike Conklin of Grangeville also scrapped his plans to dredge the river.

ICL sued days after the state approved a mining lease for Conklin. In September, Conklin was awarded a five-year lease by the Idaho Land Board for exclusive access to a half-mile stretch of river downstream of Riggins.

In its lawsuit, ICL argued the state needed to approve a reclamation plan before approving suction dredge leases.

ICL officials say they also won state assurances that if Conklin changed his mind, he would have to go through the entire lease process again.

Conservationists sue over Salmon River dredge permit

RIVERS — An environmental group has filed a lawsuit against Idaho after officials including Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter approved a plan to dredge the Salmon River for gold, the Associated Press reports. 

The Idaho Conservation League on Tuesday asked a 4th District Court judge to require Idaho to approve a reclamation plan before signing off on any mining projects. 

In September, Grangeville miner Mike Conklin was awarded a five-year lease by the Idaho Land Board giving him sole access to a half-mile stretch about 13 miles downstream of Riggins. 

The Boise-based environmental group contends Otter and other board members ignored laws meant to protect Idaho’s water, arguing that miners who use gasoline-powered suction dredges often leave big holes in the riverbed that damage valuable habitat for salmon and steelhead.

Some anglers opposed Conklin’s permit, saying it will hurt fishing.

Travel: Ballooning Means Rising Above One’s Fear

   There are people who seem to be born with a thirst for a thrill. They take every chance to leap off bridges, tethered only by elastic Bungee cords. They jump out of planes, trusting one yank of the cord will release the parachute that will lower them gently to the ground. They paddle kayaks over waterfalls and drop out of helicopters wearing skis.

    I am not one of these people.

    I don’t have that kind of confident trust. Cords snap, parachutes fail, waterfalls tumble and break the things that ride them. Why would I tempt fate?

    But edging out of middle age, I seem to be shedding some of the extreme caution that has kept my feet on the ground most of my life. I’m still not a thrill-seeker, but I just don’t seem to be bound by so many “What Ifs.”
    A recent trip to Elko, Nevada coincided with the annual Balloon Fest and I was offered a chance to take a hot air balloon ride. I didn’t stop to think once, much less twice. I hopped up into the basket and listened to the instructions about where I could and should not put my hands. (“Never touch the rope. If you touch the rope we will fall and die.” Check.)

    It was only as the blasts of flaming gas right over my head lifted the balloon away from the ground that I began to ask myself what on earth I’d been thinking. The list of hazards—power lines, rogue winds, murderous sharp-shooters (Hey, what if?) and even fabric fatigue (I imagined seams fraying and opening and, well…)—played through my head like a bad movie.

    But I was in. And we rose swiftly and silently, immediately catching the current of air and moving toward the horizon.

    We moved steadily across the city. Dogs, startled by the sights and sounds of the balloons, there were 30 more behind us, barked and danced as we flew over. School children waved from the yellow bus that looked like a child’s toy. Birds flew beneath us, darting in and out of the trees lining neighborhood streets.

    I’d wrapped my fingers tightly around one of the bars at the side of the wicker balloon the moment we’d lifted off and I didn’t seem to be able to let go. But, a few minutes in, still holding on, I felt myself relax enough to really think about what I was seeing and experiencing.

    I looked out toward the Ruby Mountains, somewhat obscured by smoke from wildfires further north, across the high Nevada desert and the rough, dry landscape so many crossed on foot and by wagon train 150 years ago as they made their way over the California Trail to conquer the wide-open West and start new lives in California.

    It really is a beautiful way to travel. In a balloon you do not fight the wind, you ride it. You surrender to the currents and ribbons of air that stream over the planet and let them take you where they are going. There are tools: hot air, vents, ballast, and so on, but ultimately, you are a guest of the wind.

    At the end of the ride we began our descent. The landing was not smooth. A breeze came from out of nowhere and fought us, but we stuck it. Then, when the pilot realized we'd come down on railroad property—not cool—we lifted up just high enough to find a more accessible spot. The chase crew found us and we were done.

    When I finally climbed out of the basket, back on the ground at last, a surge of adrenaline made me tremble.
 “Anxious Annie” as a friend once dubbed me, had taken a chance. And I had one more thing I could check off my list.

    We helped roll and fold the balloon, storing it and the basket in the trailer behind the chase van, and I was baptized with cheap champagne to mark my first flight. Later, I messaged a photo taken mid-flight to my children and their confused responses made me laugh. This was not what they expected to see.

    That’s the beauty of aging. Not only do we surprise others when we take a chance, occasionally we even surprise ourselves.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Coal miners forced to attend Romney event and donate

Here's a paradox: When Mitt Romney visited an Ohio coal mine this month to promote jobs in the coal industry, workers who appeared with him at the rally lost pay because their mine was shut down. The Pepper Pike company that owns the Century Mine told workers that attending the Aug. 14 Romney event would be mandatory. Employees feared they would be fired if they didn't attend the campaign rally.

“Yes, we were in fact told that the Romney event was mandatory and would be without pay, that the hours spent there would need to be made up my non-salaried employees outside of regular working hours, with the only other option being to take a pay cut for the equivalent time,” the employees told David Blomquist at WWVA radio. “Yes, letters have gone around with lists of names of employees who have not attended or donated to political events.”

“I realize that many people in this area and elsewhere would love to have my job or my benefits,” one worker explained. “And our bosses do not hesitate in reminding us of this. However, I can not agree with these callers and my supervisors, who are saying that just because you have a good job, that you should have to work any day for free on almost no notice without your consent.”

“We do not appreciate being intimidated into exchanging our time for nothing. I heard one of your callers saying that Murray employees are well aware of what they are getting into upon hire, or that they are informed that a percentage of their income will go to political donations. I can not speak for that caller, but this is news for me. We merely find out how things work by experience.”

The was mine shut down for “safety and security” reasons as Romney spoke against the "war on coal" at the rally. Read more from Raw Story and listen to the radio broadcast after the jump.  

Congress blocks black-lung protections

Oh those House Republicans. The latest: They are trying to block efforts to protect coal miners from black lung disease. It was only yesterday the Center for Public Integrity released a report showing that black lung is returning.

From the Charlotte Gazette: House Republicans are seeking to extend their measure that blocks the Obama administration from moving forward with a new rule aimed at combating the resurgence of deadly black lung disease, which experts say has reached epidemic proportions in the Appalachian coalfields. …

If approved, the language would forbid [the Mine Safety and Health Administration] from using any funds from its budget to finalize its October 2010 proposal to tighten legal coal-dust limits and improve other protections for miners.

They also say it's the miners fault for not protecting themselves, sidestepping any accountability for the industry in favor of profits.

Coeur d’Alene mine to return to full production earlier than planned

Coeur d'Alene Mines Corporation’s Kensington gold mine in Alaska will resume full production ahead of schedule, the Coeur d’Alene-based company announced today.

The company in November announced a temporary reduction in mining and milling activities to allow for completion of several underground and surface projects at Kensington, 45 miles north of Juneau.

The majority of these projects have been completed or are scheduled to be completed by the end of July, Coeur said.

The mine contains 1.3 million ounces of gold in proven and probable reserves, and is expected to produce 82,600 to 86,500 ounces of gold this year.

Coeur d'Alene Mines is the largest U.S.-based primary silver producer and a growing gold producer.

Hecla names new manager for Lucky Friday Mine

Hecla Mining Co. has made management changes at the troubled Lucky Friday Mine.

Ed Sutich has been named vice president and general manager of the underground silver mine in Mullan, Idaho.

He replaces Jeff Jordan, who has moved to Hecla’s corporate office as vice president of technical services.

The Lucky Friday Mine is closed while the company completes about $30 million worth of work on the main shaft.

Federal inspectors ordered the shaft closure in January after a special emphasis safety inspection that was triggered by two fatalities at the mine in 2011.

Sutich, the mine’s new general manager, has 30 years of mining experience. He previously was Freeport Indonesia’s manager of underground development.

Jordan will be responsible for mining and geotechnical engineering and metallurgy in his new position.

Michael Wegleitner has been appointed as Hecla’s safety and health director. He has spent 25 years working on those issues in the mining, construction and energy industries.

Meetings on Idaho Superfund Communitie​s

Are you Iinterested in the Superfund cleanup in the Coeur d’Alene Basin? If you want to learn more about the cleanup process and provide input, there's a few upcoming events near the impacted areas that I hope you can attend. This is part of the EPA's Technical Assistance Services For Communities. All are welcome and the same material will be presented at each location.

WALLACE Tuesday, April 17, 6 p.m. Wallace Inn, Gold Room 100 Front Street

POST FALLS Wednesday, April 18, 10 a.m. City Hall, Council Chambers 408 N Spokane Street

KELLOGG Thursday, April 19, 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Silver Mountain Resort, Shoshone Room 610 Bunker Avenue

For information, contact Alison Frost, Technical Assistance Specialist (719) 256-6708, afrost@skeo.com.

1993 Photo of the Bunker HIll Superfund Site in the Coeur d'Alene Basin. Courtesy of Fish and Wildlife.

Last year, the largest and oldest owner of Idaho's silver mine, Hecla Mining Co., reached a $263.4 million settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and the state to clean up historic mine waste in the Coeur d’Alene Basin. This settlement ranks among the top ten settlements in Superfund history.