Midas Gold’s Ambitious Mining Project
Unless you have been living under a rock (or “overburden” as they say in the mining world), there’s a good chance you’ve heard about Midas Gold and its Stibnite Gold project (formerly called Golden Meadows). The project is located in the headwaters of the East Fork of the South Fork Salmon River, an incredibly important watershed for fish, anglers and floaters. Previous mining at Stibnite created toxic pollution that contaminates the river to this day.
The Canadian mining company has an ambitious plan to dig far beneath previous mining projects. The latest proposal includes diverting the East Fork into a tunnel, excavating an open-pit mine under the riverbed and damming tributaries with waste rock and tailings. This project is anticipated to take at least 14 years.
What Are the Risks?
Mining near, in or underneath rivers rarely works out for the rivers, the fisheries or the downstream communities.
To its credit, Midas Gold has tried to emphasize restoration in its mine plan. While the site is undoubtedly in need of restoration, we must ensure that additional mining on the scale proposed by this project doesn’t make things worse. While Midas Gold has done an impressive job with outreach and community relations, it remains to be seen how well its mining plan takes care of water quality in the short and long term.
Now Time for the Public to Share Concerns
The U.S. Forest Service is now taking public comments on the 14-year-plus mining plan. This input is in preparation for developing the environmental impact statement and understanding how the project could affect resources in the areas. We encourage everyone who cares about clean rivers and responsible management of our public lands to learn more about this proposal and weigh in.
The Idaho Conservation League recommends that the Forest Service and Midas Gold take steps to reduce the overall size of disturbance and increase the amount of watershed restoration. If the environmental impact statement shows a risk of contamination to water quality and the South Fork Salmon River drainage, the project should not proceed.
How You Can Take Action
The Forest Service is taking public comment on the Stibnite Gold project. Your written comments are important. Consider the talking points below and then use our form to write respectful comments to the Forest Service during this analysis process. To make your comments more powerful, revise or add to the content of our form.
- State how you use and enjoy the East Fork, South Fork or main Salmon River.
- The proposed plan will fill surrounding valleys with mine waste rock and tailings. The amount of disturbance and environmental risks can be greatly reduced if the mining company scales back its mining effort and commits to backfilling its pits instead of turning them into pit lakes.
- Protecting spawning habitat for threatened and endangered fish is critically important. While Midas Gold has promised to restore fish passage to headwater streams, the current project proposes burying over a mile of spawning habitat under hundreds of feet of mining waste and tailings. The Forest Service needs to examine alternative ways of storing tailings and waste rock so that spawning habitat is protected.
- The Forest Service should take extreme care to prevent water contamination from heavy metals and acid mine drainage. Previous mining projects in this area devastated fisheries with polluted water. The project should be designed in such a way that mining will not create permanent sources of pollution needing treatment in perpetuity. If there is a risk of contaminating the South Fork headwaters, the project should not proceed.
- Restoring the site is important. However, many mining companies have an unfortunate history of backing out of commitments, suspending operations or abandoning sites. The Forest Service should look at ways to restore the site independent of mining activities if Midas Gold is unable to restore the site in a timely manner.
- The proposed project will require undoing over $13 million of taxpayer-funded restoration work. If the site is eventually restored as envisioned by Midas Gold, the Forest Service needs to describe how these investments will be protected in the future and not simply undone by the next mining company.