Idaho has issued its first major permit for a gold mine east of McCall. Conservation groups and the Nez Perce tribes say the project raises alarm bells.
The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality issued an air-quality permit to Perpetua Resources Idaho for its Stibnite Gold Project, an open-pit mine proposed at the headwaters of the East Fork of the South Fork Salmon River.
Josh Johnson, senior conservation associate for the Idaho Conservation League, said there are concerns about particulate matter from the mining, especially the carcinogen arsenic, which the area’s rocks naturally contain in high levels.
“The arsenic gets attached to what’s called the fugitive dust,” Johnson explained. “The dust that is just getting thrown into the air by different operations or by vehicle traffic, and that arsenic is one that can obviously have big impacts on human health if it’s in high enough concentrations.”
The Idaho Conservation League, Save the South Fork Salmon and Nez Perce Tribe have appealed the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality’s decision, arguing officials violated the federal Clean Air Act and state regulations. Perpetua Resources countered it will be mining for antimony, which is used for storage batteries, and noted the mine will create jobs.
Fred Coriell, a board member for Save the South Fork Salmon, said the conditions in the air quality permit are essentially voluntary and not legally enforceable.
Coriell emphasized without stringent controls, his organization is concerned the project could have health consequences for people who use the area.
“There’s a lot of recreation that our members do up there: hunting, fishing, floatboating, berry picking, hiking, family camping,” Coriell outlined. “They pass through the mine site to access areas that are in and around Frank Church Wilderness.”
The Nez Perce Tribe said the mine would be within its “aboriginal homeland where the Tribe has treaty-reserved rights and natural resources, cultural resources and sacred sites.”
Other permits and regulations are required for the project to move forward, including an environmental review by the U.S. Forest Service.