The Board of Directors for the Idaho Conservation League recently had the opportunity to take a tour of the proposed Midas Gold Stibnite gold mine east of McCall. As one of ICL’s newest board members, I only recently learned of this proposed mine, its potential environmental impacts, and their proposed solutions to mitigate those impacts. The ICL staff does a great job laying out the current environmental concerns of this highly contaminated area and the potential risks of what would be Idaho’s largest gold mine. More importantly, ICL’s staff gives credit where credit is due and Midas Gold has already modified their exploration plans to lessen their environmental impacts. We are still waiting for similar considerations in their actual mining plan.
My professional background is in astronomy and astrophysics. I spent over a decade at the University of Colorado Boulder managing the university’s planetarium and working on a few NASA missions. My most significant contribution to preserving Idaho’s wilderness legacy came over the past 4 years when I was a part of the team that created the nation’s first and only Dark Sky Reserve located in central Idaho. I came into this mine tour with an open mind and healthy skepticism, as is required by all of us in the scientific community. So I was pleasantly surprised to see a white paper and supporting documents from Midas Gold conveying their commitment to preserving dark skies at their mine. Mines are usually the worst offenders with regards to light pollution. I both personally and professionally appreciate Midas’ efforts and proposed implementation of a responsible light management plan and am interested in how this will be incorporated into the actual mine plan.
While we appreciate efforts to minimize impacts on critical waterways, it is better to avoid these impacts from the start. Are their plans for reducing light pollution and limiting their environmental impacts on critical waterways and habitat enough to make up for the sheer scale of the devastation this mine will leave behind? On the day of the tour, the Midas staff were gracious with their time and took ample opportunities to stop and engage in conversation about an array of details and concerns about the mine. The first thing that stuck out to me was the sheer complexity of this project. Every pit they dig is dependent on the next one and that creates an “all or nothing” operation with many single points of failure. Continuous construction and deposition of what will be the state’s largest tailings dam presents its own engineering complexities and risks. Hoping to have no water quality disruptions and a reclaimed and restored salmon habitat at the end of the 20 to 25 year lifespan of the mine is a risky gambit.
I hope for Midas Gold’s success, much the way I hope for world peace. It’s aspirational, but not rooted in objective reality.