IN THE NEWS: Star News Op-Ed: Biological Study will be Closely Reviewed by Entities

IN THE NEWS: Star News Op-Ed: Biological Study will be Closely Reviewed by Entities

This op-ed originally ran in the December 19, 2019 edition of the McCall Star News. 

A recent article about permitting the Stibnite Gold Project misconstrued the facts. We assure you that Midas Gold is following the law and the rules of the permitting process and engaging with regulators to enhance transparency and collaboration around the project.

Earthworks, a group of anti-mining activists, wants you to believe that the fox is in the hen house. The story they’ve crafted is that we are writing an environmental report called a Biological Assessment and makes it sound as though this is unheard of and inappropriate. That is absolutely untrue.

So, what is really happening?

Midas Gold applied for, and was granted, non-federal representative status and we asked to help prepare the DRAFT Biological Assessment through an informal consultation process. We did this because it is a common and encouraged practice and because it helps to open the scientific analysis and coordination to more stakeholders and entities at an earlier stage in the process.

For well over a year, we have been working collaboratively with five federal agencies, three state agencies and the tribes to compile a DRAFT document known as a Biological Assessment as part of the informal consultation process under the Endangered Species Act. After collective input and review by all these entities, Midas Gold will deliver the draft to U.S. Forest Service and they will approve, modify or disapprove any of the content before they finalize the Biological Assessment.

The U.S Forest Service will then deliver their Biological Assessment to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries, where it will be reviewed and analyzed by each agency.  These agencies will then craft their own Biological Opinions. The project will be judged based on the findings within the Biological Opinions and the best available science used by the fisheries agencies.

This process is not different from the dozens of other technical reports we have been asked to prepare and submit to the Forest Service for their analysis.

The practice is provided for in regulations and has been encouraged by federal agencies, regardless of the political administration. It is a product of a collaborative, scientific, process guiding environmental permitting because it allows the process to be, as one federal regulator told us, “smart from the start.”

In fact, the USFS handbook promotes project applicants applying for the status, “There is a clear need for early, regular and fully informed coordination among federal agencies and applicants, in order to as completely as possible inform the consultation, resolve conflicts and design the project to minimize adverse effects.” There are similar statements in the handbooks for the fisheries agencies as well.

Quite simply, having more people around the table earlier on in the process makes for a more comprehensive analysis and promotes a better outcome.

From wetlands restoration projects to mining, you can see many examples of where this has been done in our briefing paper, which are examples we provided to the AP before the article was published but seemingly ignored.

Further, we’ve used our seat at the table to advocate for the inclusion of both state agencies and the tribes in the informal consultation process.  While they have guaranteed opportunities to weigh in during formal consultation after the Biological Opinions are formulated, we wanted these important voices at the table early in the process and advocated for their inclusion now.  The final project will be better because of the opportunity to work together and incorporate feedback early on instead of at the very end, when it is too late and much more difficult to find collaborative solutions.

The story also implies that the U.S. Forest Service denied our request to be granted non-federal representative status. This is not true. Our application was never officially denied.

Internal U.S. Forest Service documents show some staff at the local USFS office were leaning towards declining our request while other agency staff saw no reason to deny us the status. However, after conversations with the multiple other agencies and federal services involved, the U.S. Forest Service granted us limited non-federal representative status during informal consultation because it is a commonly used practice with recognized value.

Earthworks insinuates we will cut corners on our work and negatively impact chinook salmon and bull trout in the process. Nothing could be further from the truth and would be counterproductive to do so as it would jeopardize the entire permitting process.

From the beginning, we designed the Stibnite Gold Project as a tool to restore the historic Stibnite Mining District. After more than a century of mining, most of which took place before regulations existed and long before our company came to the area, the site today is a mess and needs immediate attention. There are high levels of arsenic and antimony in the rivers and groundwater around the site.  Fish have been blocked from their native spawning grounds for more than 80 years.  And critical habitat continues to be impacted by increased sediment entering the river.

These problems will not correct themselves. If we truly want to protect salmon and bull trout, we need to invest in restoration of the site. Our plan is designed to bring benefits to the site from Day One.

Before mining operations even begin, we will reconnect native salmon to their spawning grounds while enhancing bull trout and steelhead movement and habitat. We will improve water quality and fish habitat by removing, reprocessing and properly storing the abandoned tailings that currently threaten water quality. Our team will also repair the damage from a failed hydro dam to permanently keep sediment out of the river.  Numerous additional projects will collectively enhance the ecosystem.

Because the Federal government officially walked away from this site in 2012, we are the only entity left willing to invest in restoring the river and repairing critical habitat. We want to do this work. But, before we can start, we will need to meet some of the highest regulatory standards in the world. This can only happen through a strict scientific process where our data can be evaluated, independently verified and monitored over time.

We truly believe including as many stakeholders in the analysis will make our project stronger. We appreciate working alongside federal and state agencies, tribal leaders and community members to achieve this goal.

If you have questions about our project or the draft biological assessment reach out to us. Let us show you what it means to be transparent and sit around the same table to work together.