The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality issued a permit on Thursday, April 7, to a company planning to construct a gold mine in the Boise River watershed 20 miles southeast of Boise on Blacks Creek Road. Desert Mineral Mining, a limited liability corporation based out of Nevada, has been actively engaged in construction on the site since last year, but has also been building a heated debate among local landowners and activists.
"We've never received this degree of public participation in a public process," said DEQ Mining Project Coordinator Bruce Schuld. "The comments that the public actually brought forth were things we hadn't even considered." Schuld reports that public comment has brought about large changes to the proposed cyanide-leaching mine, including a maximum processing limit of 22,000 tons of ore-a drastic reduction of the originally planned amount-as well as a requirement for Desert Mineral to install a leak detection and collection system beneath the mine's cyanide waste treatment pit.
But the DEQ permit deals mainly with waste water and contamination issues, leaving unsettled two of the mine's most contentious issues: the source of its water, and how the mine site will be restored or "reclaimed" after its closure-whether through proper closure or company default. Here is an update on the two oft-voiced concerns.
In the DEQ's 182-page response to public concerns, the issue of the mine's water supply was brought up numerous times by commentators. It has been of particular interest since the Idaho Department of Water Resources has placed a moratorium on any new water rights in the Boise River Basin. Initially, Desert Mineral said they planned to purchase water rights from nearby landowners to get around the moratorium. At a January 20 public meeting, company President Dan Terzo modified the plan, stating that water would be trucked into the site and stored in large tanks. When the company received the permit, however, a third scheme appeared to be in place.
Mike Keckler, spokesman for the IDWR, told BW, "They [Desert Mineral] have told us they're going to use about 1,800 gallons [of water] a day. Because that is such a limited supply, they basically are exempt from a water right under the 'Domestic Exemption.'"
According to Idaho law, water users consuming less than 2,500 gallons-approximately the capacity of a large hot tub-for daily domestic or in-house uses don't have to apply for a water right. Keckler said he could not recall another instance where the exemption applied to a mine, but insisted that despite the title of "domestic," the quantity of water determines the exemption, not the use.
If that trickle of water is sufficient, however, Desert Mineral still has one major hurdle to clear before being allowed to commence processing: They must receive a reclamation permit from the Idaho Department of Lands. According to Eric Wilson, IDL lands resource manager, the department is waiting on only one piece of information, a map of the facility, in order to have a complete permit application from Desert Mineral. The IDL will then have 60 days to issue the permit, but during that time the application will be available for public comment and, if the IDL so decides, a public meeting similar to the one held for the cyanide permit. "We have had a request to have a public hearing," he said, "but we will re-evaluate that request when their plan is complete."
Wilson also told BW that the IDL will require a $54,000 financial assurance from Desert Mineral to cover the costs of closing the mine, a significant increase from the $25,000 maximum bond that the DEQ attached to the cyanide permit.
To view the DEQ's response to public comment, or to view the completed permit, contact Bruce Schuld at 373-0544 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To contact Eric Wilson at the IDL, call 334-3488 or e-mail email@example.com.