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Yesterday’s announcement by the Canadian company, Mosquito Consolidated Gold Mines Ltd., that it had received final approval from the U.S. Forest Service to begin exploring for molybdenum in Idaho’s Boise National Forest is bound to refocus attention on an old federal law that plays a central role in mining decisions. The 1872 National Mining Act, which still governs how mining occurs on federal lands, has been a bone of contention between environmental groups and mining companies for decades.

Work Begins to Tap Huge Mineral Deposits in Idaho

Yesterday’s announcement by the Canadian company, Mosquito Consolidated Gold Mines Ltd., that it had received final approval from the U.S. Forest Service to begin exploring for molybdenum in Idaho’s Boise National Forest is bound to refocus attention on an old federal law that plays a central role in mining decisions.

The 1872 National Mining Act, which still governs how mining occurs on federal lands, has been a bone of contention between environmental groups and mining companies for decades.

Critics are concerned that a so-called “no action alternative” in the law requires the Forest Service to approve an exploration and potential mining plan, regardless of whether or not the site is appropriate for such activity.

Other legislation, however, such as the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, can play significant roles in mitigation of environmental threats.

A principal issue concerning the proposed CuMo mine near Idaho City, east of Boise, is the effect molybdenum mining may have on groundwater. The site is at upper Grimes Creek, in the headwaters of the Boise River, which provides more than 20 percent of the drinking water supply for the populous Treasure Valley, including Boise and several other cities.

Last summer, an environmental assessment was released for 30 days of public comment.

The Idaho Conservation League, Sierra Club, Idaho Rivers United and Golden Eagle Audubon entered a joint statement that said, in part, “Our organizations maintain that large-scale industrial mining in the Boise River watershed is unsuitable given the importance of this area to provide clean drinking water for downstream communities, irrigation water for agriculture, recreational opportunities, continued economic development and habitat for fish and wildlife.”

After the Forest Service granted the drilling permit this summer, the same environmental groups filed a complaint that requested reconsideration of the decision.

“The Forest Service’s environmental specialists and their consultants have done a very thorough job on the Environmental Assessment,” Shaun Dykes, CuMo project manager, said in yesterday’s press release. “This analysis has reaffirmed that the proposed activities would have no significant impact on the environment, including water resources in the region.”

Molybdenum, a corrosion-resistant mineral with one of the highest melting points, is used principally as an alloying agent in steel, cast iron and super alloys in the manufacturing of products including nuclear reactors, jet engines, and oil pipelines.

About 56,000 metric tons of molybdenum were produced in the United States in 2008, making it one of the country’s few mineral commodity exports, according to an article last year in Land Letter.

Last month, Mosquito announced that preliminary site exploration had determined the potential for six billion tons of metals in the region, which was the site of a major 19th century gold rush.

Not only molybdenum but copper, silver and tungsten deposits could be there, the company believes. If confirmed by exploratory drilling, this would be one of the largest concentrations of combined minerals of its type in the world, and possibly the largest molybdenum deposit.

Mosquito estimates development costs at $2 billion to $3 billion, but the mine’s yield over a 40-year life could be up to $70 billion.

More than 100 exploratory drill sites will be established over 2,900 acres of national forest, a project that will include construction of about 13 miles of roads. If the mine eventually were built, it could provide about 1,000 jobs and become one of the state’s largest private employers.

It would be unlikely to come easily.

“Prepare for a fight if you plan a mine in the Boise River watershed,” Idaho Statesman environmental reporter, Rocky Barker, wrote this month. “Here the public’s worries about mining pollution go far beyond environmentalists’.”

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Comments

  1. bearbait says:

    Water is a poor reason to limit mining in Idaho. Idaho gets the majority of the diverted water out of the whole of the Columbia-Snake River watershed. Add to that the dams with no fish ladders on the main stem Snake River upstream from Hells Canyon, and on every tributary to the Snake above Hells Canyon, and any whines about fish habitat are going to fall on interested ears…ones that want reconfiguration of those dams all the way up to Salmon creek and beyond, including the Boise River. No wonder it is called Bogus Basin. Lots of Bogus claims by the enviros who are intent on killing any job that does not involve a bicycle shop or an organic bakery. And, I am waiting for the dominant religious bloc in Eastern Idaho to get behind an attempt to send Snake River water to Utah for job creation in that insular state. There will be some Finns and Slavs from the lower Columbia River who will have a say in that prospect. Idaho has some pretty disingenuous ideas about whose water all this really is. And whose landscape is being proposed for mining.

  2. Fenske says:

    It must really hurt to be so stupid Bearbait.

    ” A principal issue concerning the proposed CuMo mine near Idaho City, east of Boise, is the effect molybdenum mining may have on groundwater. The site is at upper Grimes Creek, in the headwaters of the Boise River, which provides more than 20 percent of the drinking water supply for the populous Treasure Valley, including Boise and several other cities. ”

    Drinking…………

    Fish??????????????

  3. bearbait says:

    Fenske: just exactly what effects on the Boise River will the mine have? You have done your EIS? Are you a mining engineer? Do you really think that the Feds will let anything happen just because?? Or is this one of those, ah gee, we should no anything anywhere because it will change something? The USFS is letting a fire burn on its own in the Boise NF right now. Don’t you think that the smoke will hurt lungs? Or the watershed will lose soil protection when the duff is gone?? That is a management decision out of the same think tanks that don’t want anything to happen that might enrich society on any acre of land, public or private. A company drill exploratory core samples and already they have ruined the drinking water. Or will next week.

    This country is out of work, and many people are days or weeks from homelessness and no job prospects. Do you really think that someone making an effort to gain access to resources and jobs is a threat? Or is the threat from the tax forgiven trust suckers? The people who live on other peoples exploitation of the wilderness heritage. Do you really think that the Pew Foundation came from selling organic spinach? Pew owned Sun Oil. The wealth of the movers and shakers will run out, just like the income grandma has from her savings and bonds. No interest and no economy, and grandma makes nil. We need to do stuff. Make stuff. Mine and drill for stuff. Selling “the grandeur of the landscape” works if you have a rich and prosperous citizenry. We no longer do.

    As for Idaho and water, Idaho is a water hog state. A devious and determined dammer and fish denier. No sockeye in Idaho is about Idaho Fish and Game poisoning them out of Red Lakes basin years ago to create a trophy trout fishery. The ones to Payette Lake were dammed out. Just like the steelhead to the upper Owyhee. Dammed out almost a century ago. Or like the Clearwater which got Dworshak in the late 1960s. Idaho Power and Frank Church irrigation projects did the fish in. Now there is millions of acre feet of impounded water in Idaho. Boise and the Treasure Valley will not want for water, ever. As for water quality, what exactly is “pure” water for??? To crap in, mostly. And to bathe, to wash, to clean, and all of that produces a wealth of dirty water that someone else, downstream, has to deal with. The “pure” water from the USFS watershed is about cheap. About cheap water entitlement. All to fill toilets to float a turd. The issue is to protect the cheap turd floatation medium, as opposed to having meaningful, family wage jobs. I get it.

  4. JJ86 says:

    bearbait, I don’t know who entitled you to play GOD in so many of the comment threads on Newwest, but your argument’s are all long and drawn out. Just because you have the time to write such lengthy comments doesn’t mean you need to flaunt every detail out for the whole audience to see.

    I realize this is a discussion thread, but writing just to gain attention and shut down other’s comments is pretty laaaaaame.

    Nice article Newwest!

  5. Mick Garcia says:

    Over 20 years ago, for about 6 years I worked at the Thompson Creek Moly mine between Stanley and Challis Id. Haven’t heard any news that the mine is polluting the water table or the watershed and its being monitored by Idaho and the Feds. A mining plan is required and the environmental watch dogs can look into the details. Its a little premature to declare that a disaster is imminent, especially since the mining company has only pulled an exploratory permit to see how much ore is actually there. No need to freak out yet.

  6. Stoneman says:

    The problem is not mining. It is a needed industry. The problem is the after effects. It seems that nearly everytime industry is turned loose, we are faced with a major environmental cleanup; and, often very serious health impacts several years later. It can be done right; Question is: Will it? Not if industry is let to go without reasonable controls.

    sb