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Eye On Boise

Idaho groups reopen lawsuit against Atlanta Gold re Boise River system pollution

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: 


BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Two environmental groups have reopened a lawsuit contending a Canadian mining company is polluting the Boise River system despite a court order to stop.

The Idaho Conservation League and the Northwest Environmental Defense Center on Thursday submitted court filings contending Atlanta Gold Corporation is violating the court order and the Clean Water Act.

A federal court in 2012 penalized the company $2 million for not doing enough to stanch the flow of arsenic into streams that supply some of Boise's drinking water.

"The company needs to take action to protect the water that flows down through our communities and we are going to hold them accountable until they do," said the Idaho Conservation League's John Robison in a statement.

Atlanta Gold President Ernest Simmons said the company is trying to get federal approval to plug a century old tunnel emitting the water. He said water in the heavily mined area runs through shafts and tunnels and accumulates in the old drain tunnel. He said flows increase during spring snowmelt and high rain events, causing the pollution violations.

The company as part of its permit must report discharges into the Boise River system to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The federal agency on its website shows the company since 2012 has reported multiple violations of the permit due to high levels of arsenic.

Simmons said the company spends about $90,000 a year treating the water. He said a serious potential problem is a collapse in the old drain tunnel, which would back up water that would ultimately break through and cause millions of gallons to flow out toward the town of Atlanta.

"The way to solve these problems is to develop a well-designed plug," he said Friday, calling any other solution temporary.

He said the U.S. Forest Service rejected plugging the tunnel eight years ago, but ongoing discussions in recent weeks have given him optimism the company might get approval from federal authorities. He attributed the potential change to a massive mine wastewater spill in August 2015 that fouled rivers in three states.

A cleanup team led by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency inadvertently triggered the spill while doing work at the Gold King mine near Silverton, Colorado. The 3-million-gallon blowout tainted rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah with an estimated 880,000 pounds of toxic heavy metals including arsenic, mercury and lead.

"They're more accepting to plug tunnels now than before Gold King," Simmons said, noting the company has set aside $1.6 million to do the work if it's approved.

A U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman didn't immediately return a call from The Associated Press on Friday.

Simmons said the area has the potential to contain up to $5 billion in gold and silver. He said if the company puts in the plug it could get approval to start mining, creating up to 450 jobs.

Atlanta Gold obtained an interest in the site in 1985 and for years has conducted exploratory drilling and excavation, but has yet to extract and process any gold. As part of its exploration process, the company reopened 200 feet of a mine tunnel first drilled in 1917.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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