For Immediate Release: Monday, December 5, 2022
Jonathan Oppenheimer, ICL External Relations Director, (208) 208-345-6933 x 226
Bryan Hurlbutt, Staff Attorney, Advocates for the West, (208) 342-7024 x 206
Abby Urbanek, ICL Communications Manager, (208) 345-6933 x 214
Suction dredge miner who polluted Idaho’s Clearwater River appeals court ruling
BOISE, ID — Suction dredge miner Shannon Poe, who polluted the South Fork of the Clearwater River and refused to secure a permit as required under the Clean Water Act, has filed a notice of appeal over a court ruling ordering him to pay a $150,000 fine for failing to receive the proper permits. The fine, which was levied by federal Magistrate Judge Raymond Patricco in a September 28 ruling, represents the largest Clean Water Act penalty ever against an individual in Idaho.
Mr. Poe filed the Notice of Appeal on November 18, and is being represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeal will focus on the argument that dredging in the South Fork does not add pollution to the river. If the Ninth Circuit rules in Poe’s favor, this would create a loophole in the Clean Water Act, allowing not just suction dredge mining, but many industries to pollute our nation’s waters without following the Clean Water Act.
“It is well established that sediment, gravels, and other materials found in the beds of rivers, lakes, and wetlands become pollutants once they are removed from the bed and are dumped in the water,” stated Bryan Hurlbutt, staff attorney at Advocates for the West. “We are confident we will secure a strong ruling from the appeals court, affirming that suction dredge mining is subject to the Clean Water Act and that dredge miners must follow pollution standards.”
Represented by Advocates for the West, the Idaho Conservation League (ICL) filed the lawsuit against Mr. Poe, of California, in August 2018 for illegal suction dredge mining on the South Fork of the Clearwater River, which provides critical habitat for salmon, steelhead, bull trout, and other sensitive species.
“Based in part on Poe’s own admissions that he dredged without proper approval, we feel strongly that the ruling in this case was well-founded, and if the appeals court agrees, this case could set precedent for much of the western United States and Alaska, ensuring that dredge miners and other polluters cannot flout the law,” said Jonathan Oppenheimer, external relations director with the Idaho Conservation League.
The $150,000 fine levied by Judge Patricco in September 2022 followed a June 2021 ruling in the same case that found Poe violated the Clean Water Act when he engaged in unpermitted suction dredge mining on 42 separate days.
In his ruling Judge Patricco said, “it is clear that suction dredge mining (even small-scale, recreational suction dredge mining) disturbs a riverbed’s substrate and discharges sediment into the water column, causing aesthetic and environmental harm. This is especially the case in a sensitive environment like the [South Fork Clearwater River] – a critical habitat for ESA-listed species and an already-impaired river due to the failure to meet state water quality standards for sediment and temperature.”
Other similar cases against dredge miners in Idaho resulted in penalties of $3,600, $6,600, and $24,000. The penalty ordered by Judge Patricco was elevated due to Poe’s repeated violations, disregard for warnings, and encouraging others to violate the law. The 2022 ruling also prohibits Poe from mining on the South Fork in the future unless he complies with the Clean Water Act.
Initial appeal briefs are due in spring 2023, with a potential ruling expected in 2024.
ICL monitors suction dredge mining and has placed several miners on notice to encourage Clean Water Act compliance and to protect Idaho’s rivers and streams from pollution. After the state assumed primacy for the Clean Water Act, dredge miners are now required to obtain an Idaho Pollution Discharge Elimination System (IPDES) Permit from the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, along with other permits to comply with state and federal rules designed to protect sensitive species, water quality, and other public resources.
Dredge mining can wreak havoc on fish, wildlife habitat, riverbanks, waterways and riverbeds. A high-powered vacuum sucks up gravel and sediment at the bottom of a stream, dumps the material into a sluice box to capture gold, if any, and then spews the gravel and sediment back into the water. Video/B-roll footage available from ”Dirty Gold,” presented by Friends of the Clearwater.
ICL’s mission is to create a conservation community and pragmatic, enduring solutions that protect and restore the air you breathe, the water you drink, and the land and wildlife you love. www.idahoconservation.org
Advocates for the West is a non-profit, public interest environmental law firm headquartered in Boise, Idaho, that works to defend public lands, water, fish, and wildlife throughout the American West. Visit Advocates for the West online at https://advocateswest.org/.