Judge Considers Midas Gold’s Motions on Clean Water Act Litigation

Judge Considers Midas Gold’s Motions on Clean Water Act Litigation

In arguments on Monday, December 16, U.S. District Judge Lynn B. Winmill considered Midas Gold’s request to place the Nez Perce Tribe’s lawsuit on hold while Midas Gold and other stakeholders continue to advance ongoing efforts to address historical mining contamination in the Stibnite Mining District. The Judge is taking a motion to stay under advisement and will make a final decision shortly.

“As we advised the court, for more almost two years, we have worked closely with regulators and stakeholders to address the causes of water contamination in the historic Stibnite Mining District,” said Midas Gold Idaho CEO, Laurel Sayer. “We have requested a stay in this case so the work to help the site can continue. Work on the ground, not work in the courtroom, provides the best opportunity to see restoration at Stibnite.”

Earlier this year, the Nez Perce Tribe filed a lawsuit against Midas Gold claiming the company is violating the Clean Water Act, despite the fact the company has never operated at the site and the water quality issues that exist today were created by historical mining activity that dates back over 80 years. Midas Gold’s actions have been limited to studying current conditions in the mining district.

For almost two years, Midas Gold has routinely been meeting with environmental regulators on the issue of the site’s water quality. More recently, the company began working closely with the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency to gain permission to take action to learn more about the causes of degraded water quality. Under a provision of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), Midas Gold asserts it is not legally responsible for legacy impacts at the site because it has never operated on the Stibnite site and did not cause the contaminated conditions by previous mining and government actions on the site. However, the proposed Stibnite Gold Project is designed to address the problems facing the site – including reconnecting fish to their native spawning grounds, fixing the largest source of sedimentation in the river and removing tailings and waste that degrade water quality. With the levels of arsenic and antimony being detected at elevated levels, Midas Gold felt it was important to work directly with regulators now to begin addressing the causes of clearly degrading water quality.

The Stibnite Mining District is a highly mineralized area and there are over three million tons of tailings from the World War II era laying unconstrained at the site, so it is not unexpected to see high levels of metals in ground and surface water. Numerous other similar issues have been identified across the site.  Elevated levels of arsenic and antimony have likely been a problem for decades and, unless action is taken, such conditions will continue to be an issue facing the mining district.

Midas Gold has been evaluating the region as a potential opportunity for redevelopment since 2009 and, in 2016, presented its Plan of Restoration and Operations to the United States Forest Service. The project was designed to bring economic investment and environmental restoration to a historic mining district. Currently, Midas Gold has offered the only viable solution to address water quality issues at the site.

Midas Gold is requesting a stay in the case so that it can focus its efforts on finding meaningful solutions to the site instead of spending time on a lawsuit that may turn out to be unnecessary. Whatever the Court may decide, Midas remains committed to advancing solutions to any water quality issues at the site.

In the courtroom on Monday, Judge Winmill denied Midas Gold’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Midas Gold’s motion asserted that the allegations in the Complaint did not state a specific claim against the appropriate parties named in the suit, and that the U.S. Forest Service needed to be a party to the action as an owner of some of the sites alleged to be violating the Clean Water Act. The Judge recognized the Forest Service may need to be a party to the lawsuit at some later point if Clean Water Act liability needed to be determined. Judge Winmill therefore allowed the suit to proceed but he acknowledged he was not expressing any opinion on the merits of the allegations.