Think back to high school chemistry. Remember the dreaded table of elements? The chemical symbol for copper is Cu. The symbol for molybdenum is Mo. Put them together and you have CuMo. And now you know more than most Idahoans about the proposed CuMo mine, which could become the largest open pit mine of its kind in North America.
The U.S. Forest Service would have you believe that they're not really considering a mine for the Grimes Pass area, approximately 14 miles north of Idaho City. Rather, they're considering something called an "exploratory project."
"We're not even going to talk about mining," said Russell Hicks of the Forest Service at an Aug. 7 open house at the Crouch community hall. "This is strictly an examination of a proposal to build 10 or 13 miles of roads through the area."
What can the Forest Service say about the privately owned mining company?
"We're not really here to discuss them," countered Hicks. "We're simply looking at the environmental impact from the process."
The company is Mosquito Consolidated Gold Mines, out of Vancouver, B.C. Its largest single shareholder is International Energy and Mineral Resources of Hong Kong. Mosquito wants to build miles of new roads in Boise County, truck in equipment and drill approximately 260 exploratory holes across 7,000 acres.
Not unlike other "outsiders" (think Areva's nuclear ambitions and Bridge Resources' natural gas drilling), Mosquito is all abuzz about jobs. Their investment prospectus tags Boise County as "one of Idaho's poorest" and promises "trained mining-industrial workforce are available within 50 miles of the property."
"I don't want to live in a mining community," said Tina Marie Hoven of Garden Valley. "I've had too much. I'm ready to give up."
Ann Finley has no intention of moving. She's lived in nearby Pioneerville on 31 acres that her parents bought from turn-of-the-century homesteaders. Finley spends her days among the wild sego lilies and Indian paint brush lining nearby Clear Creek and Grimes Creek, headwaters to Lucky Peak and the Boise River.
"I've already seen considerable erosion," said Finley, "and mining would certainly dramatically impact the waters."
"Mining is the No. 1 toxic polluter in the nation," said Pam Conley of Idaho Families for Clean Water, a coalition of organizations working to protect the Boise River watershed.
Thus far, most media has painted the CuMo debate in pedestrian "business vs. environmentalists" cliches. But Forest Service geologist Hicks said his agency earnestly wants and needs public input on the matter.
"We're holding two more hearings. Then there'll be about a 30-day comment period before a decision is handed down," he said.
The next hearings are slated for Thursday, Aug. 12, 6-9 p.m., at the Doubletree Riverside in Boise and Friday, Aug. 13, 4-7 p.m., at the Idaho City community center.
Ironically, up in northern Idaho there are very different meetings taking place. That's where they're discussing a proposed expansion of superfund cleanups of mining waste. That work could cost $1.3 billion and last 30 years.