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Salmon River Gold Mining Dredges up a Lawsuit

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PHOTO: Suction dredge mining. Photo courtesy of Idaho Conservation League.
PHOTO: Suction dredge mining. Photo courtesy of Idaho Conservation League.
October 17, 2012

BOISE, Idaho - Plans to dredge for gold in the Salmon River have landed in court.

A lawsuit has been filed to require the state to approve a restoration plan for the suction dredging lease, claiming it's required by state law - but didn't happen when the Idaho Land Board approved the lease last month.

Suction dredging is going on all over the state, says retired Idaho Fish and Game fisheries biologist Bert Bowler, but in this stretch of the Salmon River he believes it's too destructive.

"It's not the time or the place to be doing that. There's all kinds of issues that suction dredging can do on the environment and the stream bottom."

The Idaho Conservation League filed the suit in 4th District Court, along with support from the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, river outfitters and anglers. Jonathan Oppenheimer, ICL senior conservation associate, testified against the lease last month, outlining the list of problems - including erosion and potential release of toxic industrial fluids.

"Significant impacts both on fisheries, as well as the food the fish rely upon - so, the insects, and also on water quality."

The state has been generous with suction-dredge mining permits this year, Oppenheimer says. The DEQ has issued more than 700 permits throughout the state. While there are gold flakes in the water and gravel on the Salmon River, he says, a lease wouldn't bring big money for the state. Only one other lease has been issued in the Salmon River, and Oppenheimer says the records show the annual rent and royalty payments total about $360 a year.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - ID