On Monday an Associated Press story by Keith Ridler and a press release from Midas Gold offered different views of the process of putting together environmental information on Midas’ proposed gold and antimony mine in the Stibnite Mining District in Idaho.
The AP story focused on letter by a group of U.S. representatives questioning Midas’ role in writing an environmental assessment. The Midas press release said the environmental studies are a collaborative effort which are focused on providing accurate and complete information and analysis.
The AP story concluded with talking about some of the past environmental degradation in the Stibnite Mining District, whereas the Midas story emphasized the company’s plan to restore the area with funding from new mining operations.
Barrick Gold acquired 46,551,731 common shares of Midas Gold, about 19.6 percent of the outstanding common shares, in a $38 million transaction in May 2018. Barrick purchased more than 7 million additional Midas shares for about $4.4 million Canadian in July 2019, bringing Barrick’s ownership of Midas to about 19.9 percent.
The AP story:
By KEITH RIDLER Associated Press
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Lawmakers who oversee appropriations for the U.S. Forest Service on Monday sent a letter requesting the agency revoke its decision allowing a Canadian company to write a key environmental report on proposed open-pit gold mines in central Idaho.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum of Minnesota chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee. She, the vice-chair of the committee and four other House Democrats want all records leading to the Forest Service giving British Columbia-based Midas Gold authority to write the document.
The Associated Press in December reported that internal documents obtained by conservation group Earthworks showed that the Forest Service in February 2018 decided to deny Midas Gold's request to participate as what is called a non-federal representative in writing the assessment.
The Forest Service said they didn't want Midas Gold helping to write the document because the massive project would likely harm protected fish.
But by October 2018 — and after the Trump officials became involved — Midas Gold was not only a participant, it had taken over leading the process and writing the document.
The document, called a biological assessment, or BA, deals with the potential effect the open-pit mines would have on salmon, steelhead and bull trout protected under the Endangered Species Act.
"Allowing a mining company to author its own BA on its project's potential impacts to ESA-listed species creates potential conflicts of interest and undermines public confidence in the permitting process," McCollum, who chairs the subcommittee, and the other lawmakers wrote.
The biological assessment would typically be written by the Forest Service or an independent contractor. The report could sink Midas Gold's Stibnite Gold Project if it results in habitat restoration work that makes the mines economically unfeasible.
The lawmakers in the letter to Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen also want the agency to provide to Congress a list of all proposed hard rock mines where a company sought or received non-federal representative status and the ability to participate in writing such documents.
Babete Anderson, spokeswoman for the Forest Service, didn't immediately return a call from the AP. The Forest Service at the local level typically responds to congressional inquiries within 10 days.
"The letter is inaccurate and misleading," said Laurel Sayer, CEO of Midas Gold Idaho. "Midas Gold's non-federal representative status is not new or unusual and ultimately has already and will continue to increase collaboration."
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The draft environmental impact statement for Midas Gold's proposed mining project is due out this month and will outline possible scenarios for mining. That draft will incorporate aspects of the biological assessment. A final document is expected next year.
Midas Gold says the Stibnite Mining District contains more than 4 million ounces of gold and more than 100 million pounds of antimony. Antimony is used in lead for storage batteries as well as a flame retardant. The U.S. lists antimony as one of 35 mineral commodities critical to the economic and national security of the country. Midas Gold says the mines will directly create an average of 500 jobs for up to 25 years.
Mining in the area about 40 miles east of McCall dates back more than a century and has resulted in two open pits, including one that has been blocking a salmon spawning stream since the 1930s. The site also has extensive tailings left from mining operations that are the source of elevated levels of arsenic.
Previous mining companies walked away, leaving the cleanup to U.S. taxpayers. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has spent about $4 million since the 1990s restoring habitat.
Midas Gold plans additional mining in the two open pits and to create a third open pit. The work would roughly double the size of the disturbed mining area to about 2,000 acres and eliminate some previous reclamation work.
But Midas Gold's plan includes cleaning up tailings by capturing gold with new technologies. Ultimately, the company says, it will restore much of the area when mining is finished.
The Midas Gold press release:
VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Midas Gold Corp. today announced, on behalf of its subsidiary Midas Gold Idaho, Inc., the United States Forest Service and other regulators working on the Stibnite Gold Project have, following internal reviews, identified a number of recommended improvements to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement that is being prepared by the USFS as the lead agency. These recommended improvements to the Draft EIS will ultimately support a complete record of decision at the conclusion of the permitting process.
In order to meet this objective, Midas Gold Idaho has been advised by the USFS that it will be allocating additional expertise and resources from the region and other parts of the USFS to complete the Draft EIS in a timely and comprehensive manner. Midas Gold wants to ensure that the USFS releases the best plan possible for the redevelopment and restoration of the historical Stibnite Mining District and continues to promptly respond to regulators’ requests, so the USFS can incorporate these improvements into the Draft EIS in a timely and efficient manner. The USFS advised that it will update the release date for the Draft EIS in early February 2020 and will provide the revised project schedule in its quarterly Schedule of Proposed Actions update to be published on April 1, 2020.
“We are committed to ensuring that the public has access to the most accurate and complete information and analysis possible, including comprehensive discussion of the mitigation and restoration plans proposed by Midas Gold Idaho for this heavily impacted historic mine site. This will ensure that the public, agency, tribes and other stakeholder reviews and comments are well informed. A robust Draft EIS will allow the balance of the regulatory review to be completed in a timely and efficient manner,” said Stephen Quin, president and CEO of Midas Gold Corp. “Our team has always been committed to designing the best project possible and that is what needs to be reflected in the Draft EIS when it is released.”
Midas Gold Idaho expects to see the Draft EIS released by the USFS within two to three months, subject to the USFS, which is preparing the Draft EIS, and concurrence of the cooperating agencies.
Joint Review Process
Seven federal, state and local agencies involved in permitting the project signed the Stibnite Joint Review Process Memorandum of Understanding in 2017, committing to work together to evaluate the Plan of Restoration and Operations for the Stibnite Gold Project under NEPA. The MOU was designed so agencies could collaborate in the review and preparation of the EIS, meet the requirements of the public process and follow a mutually agreed upon schedule. Agency cooperation and collaboration remain key to the timeliness and completeness of the process.
Next Steps in the Regulatory Process
Once the Draft EIS is released, there will be a minimum of a 45-day public comment period as required by NEPA. Immediately following the public comment period, the USFS and cooperating agencies will respond to all comments and produce the final EIS and a draft ROD. Upon publication of the final EIS, there would be a period for objections and resolution before a final ROD is published. A positive final decision would allow Midas Gold Idaho to seek the issuance of the final permits that are dependent on the ROD being issued.
Early actions for environmental improvements
The Stibnite Mining District has been heavily impacted by past mining activities over a span of almost 100 years. Most of the legacy impacts at site occurred during World War II, when the site was a critical supplier of strategic metals needed for the war effort, and well before environmental legislation existed. Notwithstanding that it has not operated on the site and is not responsible for the site’s legacy impacts, Midas Gold Idaho’s plan of restoration and operations incorporates a comprehensive view of what it will take to restore and redevelop the site and leave behind a functional ecosystem fully and permanently supportive of enhanced fish populations and cleaner water.
For the past two years, Midas Gold Idaho began working with regulators to develop a framework under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 to address historical legacy impacts at the site. Midas Gold Idaho is proposing some cleanup actions that, upon approval, could take place as early as this year that are designed to immediately improve water quality in a number of areas on the site while longer-term actions are being evaluated through the NEPA process. Such early actions would take place under a voluntary administrative order on consent under CERCLA that would afford legal certainty for Midas Gold Idaho in performing any approved actions. Pursuant to a process that was agreed to late last year, drafts of the AOC and work plans for such early actions are currently under review by the Environmental Protection Agency, Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, and USFS. An ancillary outcome of the AOC would be the opportunity to request the court for a stay, or to dismiss, the Clean Water Act litigation. Under CERCLA and case law precedent, a federal court has no jurisdiction over a pending Clean Water Act case where an AOC addresses both the same site and the same goals of the pending lawsuit.
Midas Gold Idaho continues to believe that the optimum solution for the site is for all stakeholders to work together to implement the comprehensive and permanent reclamation and restoration of the numerous legacy issues around the site, funded through cash flow from the redevelopment of the site as a modern mining operation. These early actions offer a concrete example of what such collaborative discussions can yield.