If you haven’t had time yet to review all 5,000+ pages of the Stibnite Gold Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), you’re not alone. Fortunately, pages 23-36 of the Executive Summary provide a good overview. A table lists 14 pages of anticipated impacts, most of them decidedly negative for the environment. These include direct losses of habitat for Chinook salmon and bull trout and over a century of elevated water temperatures.
Missing from the Executive Summary is an accounting of Midas Gold’s various efforts to directly or indirectly offset these negative impacts. You have to take a deeper dive into the full report and appendices to see descriptions of these offsets. Midas Gold is hopeful that these measures will, over the long run, justify its branding of the proposed open pit mine as a restoration project.
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While the officially proposed mitigation efforts include some creative and well-intentioned components, it appears that there will still be an overwhelmingly large amount of environmental degradation for many years. Any net benefits don’t manifest until year 16 and initially appear to be based on optimistic assessments. ICL will be taking a closer look at the efficacy and durability of these mitigation impacts in the coming weeks.
Our biggest concern about the DEIS, however, is crucial information that is currently missing regarding potentially negative environmental effects. Table 4.1-1 contains two full pages of incomplete or unavailable information that are deemed “essential to a reasoned choice among alternatives.”
Questions remain unanswered about how groundwater will interact with potentially contaminated pit backfill, how quickly water can be dewatered from pits and reinjected underground, and it is not yet known how long the tailings pond liner material will last. This missing information is problematic because water pollution problems from past mines have often stemmed from failure to detect leaks or contaminants overflowing from pit lakes or process ponds and draining into streams. Other environmental analyses for other mines have included this information at this stage of public review.
According to the U.S. Forest Service, some of these analyses exist but were accidentally not initially included in the DEIS references, some have been deemed proprietary by Midas Gold, some have been deemed too expensive to collect, and some have simply not been gathered yet. ICL and others have reached out to the Forest Service and Midas Gold to obtain this and other crucial information as it becomes available.
The comment period was recently extended until October 28. We hope to use this time to locate and review as much of this missing information as we can. If this information still has to be collected and analyzed, a Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement may also be necessary so that the public fully understands the impacts of this highly complex and high risk mining project.