Fact Check: Benefits on Central Idaho

Fact Check: Benefits on Central Idaho

Recently, an opinion columnist shared their views on the Stibnite Gold Project. The author raised some important questions, such as the unfortunate past of the historical Stibnite Mining District and the impacts our project may have on rural communities. But some of what was written was misleading and incorrect. Our team wanted to address the columnist’s claims and share all of the facts with you, so you can draw your own conclusions on the Stibnite Gold Project.

Issue Raised: There is a long history of abuse by former mining companies at the Midas site and little reason to believe this time it will be different.

Fact: Proposing that all mining companies today are like the ones that operated generations ago, ignores both the facts and experiences of communities across America working in partnership to responsibly harvest natural resources.

As a company, you can judge us by our actions over the past ten years to know we are not our predecessors. From the beginning, we committed to designing the Stibnite Gold Project to take on environmental legacies left decades ago and invest in the solutions needed at Stibnite. We also set out to ensure our behavior and commitments prioritized safety, transparency, accountability, community partnership and environmental sustainability.

We are committed to transparency. In the last five years we’ve conducted over 900 community presentations and discussions and taken over 1,800 people to Stibnite to see the site as it is today and learn more about our plans.

We are committed to environmental sustainability. We have planted over 60,000 trees and powered much of our current work at Stibnite with solar power. We passed over 100 months without a reportable spill, conducted more than 140 fuel hauls and recorded more than 55 months without a lost time incident.

We are committed to local communities. We signed onto a community agreement that obligates us to work directly with leaders of eight communities in the region to listen, answer questions, find opportunity and be held accountable for the life of the project. The agreement also committed us to a profit share that will be given directly to the communities through a charitable community foundation.

Fact: The substantial majority of environmental impacts at site took place during World War II and the Korean War, under the direction of the U.S. Government.

Stibnite produced more than 90% of the antimony and around 50% of the tungsten required for the U.S. war effort.  The project is credited with shortening World War II by more than a year and saving a million American lives. In 1943, then-General Eisenhower sent the mine a telegram thanking the workers for their significant contribution to success at a critical moment in the War. This does not excuse the past environmental practices but helps explain them and should not be used as examples of mining industry practices today.

Fact: Mining that happened 80 or 100 years ago is not the same as mining today. Midas Gold will operate under a completely different regulatory environment than the mining companies that have come before us. In our project design, we made sure that, before an ounce of gold is produced, benefits to the environment will already be occurring.

The full funding needed to repair and restore the Stibnite Gold Project will be set aside in a bond or trust before mining begins. Work will not start at the site until tens of millions of dollars or more are set aside, under government control, to guarantee reclamation. Reclamation costs will be vetted and approved by regulators to ensure the correct amount is set aside.

We also designed our plan differently. For the Stibnite Gold Project, restoration and mining are linked together from day one.

We will start by addressing legacy environmental impacts during the construction period and continue by concurrently reclaiming our own disturbance as we go.

For example, during construction, we will begin fixing the largest sources of sedimentation in the watershed and, in the first years of operations, we will remove, reprocess or reuse and safely storing millions of tons of legacy mine tailings and waste rock that is significantly impacting water quality today. By year seven of operations (out of a 12-15 year operational life), we will begin backfilling the Yellow Pine pit to reconstruct the natural flow of the East Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon River and allow salmon migration to its headwaters for the first time in 80 years.

Since our project will be properly bonded, the situation the author describes will not arise. Even if Midas Gold left unexpectedly – and let us be clear we have absolutely no intentions of doing so – the reclamation bond would allow the U.S. Forest Service and State agencies to complete reclamation and restoration, as defined in the plan of operations, at no cost to the American taxpayers.

If you want to learn more on this particular topic, please check out the recent guest blog “Mining’s Past Does Not Preordain Mining’s Future.”

Issue Raised: Environmental organizations have questioned the impacts of the proposed mine project on surface and groundwater quality.

Fact: There should be concern expressed around water quality at Stibnite today. Arsenic and antimony are leaching into ground and surface water because of the natural geology of the area and because of the waste rock and tailings that were abandoned across the site. We are the only entity, public or private, offering to invest in the solutions needed to improve and protect water quality at Stibnite. If the project moves forward, we will be the solution, not the problem.

Minimizing the impacts of our project has always been top of mind and we continue to look for ways to improve the Stibnite Gold Project. However, we are very concerned about what will happen to the ground and surface water if the project doesn’t move forward.

Today, the East Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon River flows past millions of tons of abandoned mine tailings and waste rock left behind by past operators. These conditions degrade water quality and are likely causing high levels of arsenic and antimony. Unless action is taken, the problems will only continue.

We have a plan to restore the site and improve water quality. It will start with providing regulators what will likely be over $100 million in financial assurances to make sure the work is completed. Then, in the first years of operation, we fix the largest source of sedimentation in the region and begin removing sources of metal leaching.

In addition to fixing sources of sedimentation that are degrading water quality, we will invest tens of millions in a fish passage system to get fish beyond the current blockage at the beginning of the project, not when the project is over. Before we are finished mining, we will restore the river to a natural flow and gradient, adding environmental uplift and a diversity of habitat for terrestrial and aquatic life.

Issue Raised: Trucks barreling up and down two-lane roads that have served hikers, campers and fishers quite well will make those trips to the backcountry far less desirable.

Fact:  While we appreciate the author’s description, we want to make it clear the characterization is simply inaccurate. Those who have familiarized themselves with our proposal know we propose avoiding travel down these roads wherever possible. Our proposed route to Stibnite was selected because it avoids recreational users, avoids traveling adjacent to rivers and reduces safety risks as much as possible.

We have gone to great lengths to minimize the impact of traffic from our site – such as consolidating loads at the logistics facility near Cascade, having trucks travel in convoys at set times instead of multiple trips throughout the day, and avoiding traffic on weekends. We also propose avoiding travel on Johnson Creek, South Fork and Stibnite Roads to minimize interaction with recreationalists, residents, and other users while also avoiding travel adjacent to rivers.

Just like we do today, our trucks will follow several protocols to keep the roads safe for everyone. By utilizing best practices and instituting a culture of safety, we have already ensured that every sensitive load trucked to Stibnite over the past ten years has arrived safely. There will be no trucks “barreling down the road” with strict speed limits imposed on all traffic, just as it is today.

And like it or not, recreation and traffic are growing together today. According to studies, traffic in the area has increased at a consistent rate and is expected to increase regardless of a Midas Gold presence in the area.

As Idahoans, we understand how important it is to have access to the backcountry, which is why we do our part today to improve and maintain roads to increase everyone’s access to the places they love. This commitment will not change as the project moves forward.

Issue Raised: Midas Gold was writing the biological assessment document on the impact of its own mine.

Fact: As we’ve said many times before, this is simply not true. The U.S. Forest Service is writing the final biological assessment and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries will write the Biological Opinion.

We are working in collaboration with five federal agencies, three state agencies and three Tribes, to prepare the DRAFT biological assessment, which is common practice for an applicant to do and authorized under longstanding agency regulations. The U.S. Forest Service has the authority to accept, modify or reject any of the content generated from this process.  Ultimately, they will prepare the final biological assessment and submit it to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries, where it will be independently reviewed and analyzed. We have no role in the decision by the Forest Service on the content of the final document. The Biological Opinion, which is the decision document, is prepared entirely by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries without the involvement of Midas Gold.

If you have questions about our project, please ask us! Each Wednesday, our team hosts virtual office hours with the community – we would love to speak with you. You can also check out our other upcoming webinars, if there is a particular area of the project that interests you.