(BOISE) A federal judge ruled Thursday, Sept. 19 that Atlanta Gold still is violating its clean water permit and not fully complying with prior court orders. Thursday’s ruling by Chief Magistrate Judge Ronald E. Bush is the latest in a series of suits and actions first filed in 2011 by the Idaho Conservation League to force Atlanta Gold to comply with the Clean Water Act.
In 2017, Judge Bush found Atlanta Gold guilty of violating the Clean Water Act and held the mining company in contempt of court for allowing arsenic to flow into Montezuma Creek, which feeds into the Boise River. He ordered the company to pay $502,000 in fines and penalties.
“Atlanta Gold has not fully made things right for the Boise River and Idahoans,” said Justin Hayes, ICL’s executive director. “The river is a major source of drinking water and recreation for southern Idaho, and it’s way past time for Atlanta Gold to step up and take responsibility.” Hayes added, “The government needs to get more involved to regulate and properly enforce its laws regarding mines in Idaho.”
Advocates for the West represented ICL in the last three cases against Atlanta Gold, winning every time. “This latest decision comes after almost a decade of court rulings ordering Atlanta Gold to comply with its legal duties and clean up its mining pollution, which the company continues to violate. It is time for Atlanta Gold to end this long history of unlawful conduct,” said Laird Lucas, executive director of the Boise-based public interest law firm.
Atlanta Gold failed to pay a fine of $251,000 by September 2018, despite the judge’s order. Thursday’s ruling acknowledges Atlanta Gold, now a subsidiary of Japanese company Jipangu, has reduced the number of permit violations so the court reduced the prior contempt penalty of $251,000 to $125,000. Atlanta Gold officials had hoped to raise funds from Jipangu but that did not occur, according to the decision.
In his decision, the judge also noted, “Progress has been made in reducing the number of violations of the Permit requirements and reducing the severity of the violations, but an improvement upon an abysmal record of non-compliance does not equal substantial compliance with what is required of Atlanta Gold by the (Permit).” And, “Indeed, some of the improvements Atlanta Gold discussed in the filings and testimony leading to this Decision are the same improvements Atlanta Gold has discussed, but has never implemented, dating back at least seven years.”
A 2012 court ruling imposed over $2 million in penalties for Atlanta Gold’s violations and ordered prompt cleanup of its Atlanta site.
ICL works to ensure that mining activities don’t threaten human health, special places or Idaho’s clean water. ICL scrutinizes proposed new mines, improves those that are acceptable and fights those that are not in Idaho’s best interests.