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Lawsuit Filed against Suction Dredge Miner without Permit

Suction dredge mining is an intensive process that can destroy fish habitat. (Idaho Conservation League)
Suction dredge mining is an intensive process that can destroy fish habitat. (Idaho Conservation League)
August 17, 2018

GRANGEVILLE, Idaho – A conservation group has filed suit against a California man for suction dredge gold mining on the South Fork of the Clearwater River without a permit under the Clean Water Act.

The Idaho Conservation League describes Shannon Poe, who heads a mining advocacy group, as a repeat offender, and the group has told Poe since 2016 of its intent to file a lawsuit if he didn't follow clean water laws. Fines for violating the Clean Water Act can surpass $50,000 a day.

Jonathan Oppenheimer, government relations director with the Idaho Conservation League, says 14 other operations received the proper federal permits to mine on the South Fork Clearwater. He thinks Poe is giving legitimate miners a black eye.

"Clean water and a healthy Clearwater River are priceless assets for Idahoans and everyone who lives downstream,” says Oppenheimer. “And no individual has a right to degrade or pollute the Clearwater River, and no one is above the law."

Poe did receive a permit from the Idaho Department of Water Resources, and questions why he also needs permits from the U.S. Forest Service and other federal agencies. He says he has not yet seen this lawsuit.

Suction dredge mining is an intensive process with a high-powered hose sucking up gravel from the riverbed.

Oppenheimer says extensive research shows that it disrupts fish spawning beds, so it's especially concerning for endangered species like salmon and steelhead. However, miners say it's good for fish habitat.

Oppenheimer argues there's no evidence to support that, and a permit would still be needed to mine.

"Even if it did hypothetically improve habitat, if you're going to discharge pollutants into waters of the United States, you're required to have a permit under the Clean Water Act,” says Oppenheimer. “If you don't have one, you're violating the law. So, that's really what it comes down to."

The Forest Service, Environmental Protection Agency and Bureau of Land Management designed a program that minimizes the impact of dredge mining on fish habitat. The EPA established a Clean Water Act permit for the practice on thousands of miles of Idaho rivers and streams in 2013, and that permit was renewed this year through 2023.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID