After months of intense public debate, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality announced to BW on Monday, March 8, that a final cyanidation permit will be issued to a company planning to build a gold mine on Blacks Creek Road 15 miles southeast of Boise. Desert Mineral Mining LLC, a fledgling group based out of Las Vegas and Laguna Beach, California, will receive a final draft of the permit within a month, pending their agreement to numerous DEQ demands prompted by public comment.
DEQ Mine Project Coordinator Bruce Schuld, who has been overseeing the permitting process, reported that DEQ fielded over 400 public comments about the small cyanide leaching facility since the public comment period began in December. The sources ranged from neighboring ranchers to worried Boiseans, and the topics from vulnerability to range fire, to risks of groundwater contamination, to negative effects on nearby wildlife and stock, to the highly questionable financial backgrounds of the applicants. All concerns, he says, will be reflected and hopefully answered in the permit, as well as in a forthcoming 200-page report published by DEQ.
"I know I won't be able to satisfy everyone on this," Schuld said. "But I think we went through a very significant and thoughtful process, and I think we're probably going to have the best permit the state has ever issued on this type of facility."
A few of the major demands in the permit, none of which were included in the previous drafted version, will include: the construction of a fire suppression system around the mine; a more extensive system of monitoring water contamination from toxic chemical leaks in neighboring drainages; extensive contact between DEQ and the individuals who will be responsible for all construction, training and operations at the site; and perhaps most strikingly, a drastic cut in the amount of mining that will be allowed at the site.
"They have really downsized the facility," Schuld said. "We are not going to be permitting this facility to process more than 22,000 tons [of ore]. It could very easily operate and be concluded within a year, based on that volume. That has tremendous implications for a lot of the public concerns." Original estimates by Desert Mineral were on the order of 120,000 tons of ore being processed over five years.
The 200 pages of DEQ response to public comments will soon be available for download on the department's Web site (www.deq.state.id.us). Schuld could not provide a timeline for when operations may begin at the site, but said that the company would be required to give DEQ a construction timeline prior to being given the permit. He also promised that the strong outcry has prompted him to pay special attention to the construction and operations of the mine.
"Because of the public concern about the site," he said, "I am going to sit on top of this and spend at least a day a week up there going through, watching placement and excavation of material and doing some inspections on my own."
Governor Dirk Kempthorne signed a slew of bills into law last week, including one that blows a big raspberry at Idaho's tax scofflaws-and no, we're not talking about those cheapskates who drive to Oregon to do their grocery shopping. As of July 1, the Idaho State Tax Commission will have the new option of outsourcing tax enforcement to collection agencies and attorneys in cases of taxpayer delinquency. After rocketing through the House with a vote of 69 ayes to zero nays, and the Senate 33 to zero, House Bill 29 was signed by Kempthorne on March 2. Currently, the state only has authority to use collection agencies in out-of-state income tax collection. And as for those oh-so-steep collection agency and attorney fees? They'll come right out of the collected money.
Idaho's rural denizens are one step closer to getting financially harvested by Qwest this week after the controversial telephone deregulation bill (HB224) coasted through the House with a vote of 48 to 22. The bill would allow Qwest, who was previously subject to rate regulation by the Public Utilities Commission, to annually raise telephone rates by as much as 10 percent over the next five years, and freely after that. Last year's legislative session saw a similar supportive vote in the Senate, but after reconsideration and a senatorial re-vote the bill was killed.
Qwest Idaho president Jim Schmit has maintained in newspaper and television editorials around the state that deregulation is necessary to maintain Qwest's competitiveness in a market ravaged by cellular phones and other new technologies, and the bill's wording even makes reference to giving "the rural customer the benefit of the competition that now exists and will continue to grow in the urban areas." However, in a state whose rural areas are often devoid of cell service and dependant on a single provider, that "benefit" has been interpreted by the bill's numerous objectors to be nothing but a "Spirit of Lip-Service." The bill is currently in the Senate, where it had its first reading on March 7.
Governor Kempthorne is still deep in debt from his last gubernatorial campaign, but apparently he won't rest until the rest of the state joins him. Case in point: his "Connecting Idaho" plan, a 1.6 billion dollar highway project that would consume large portions of the state transportation budget for almost two decades, was reintroduced to the Idaho Senate on March 1 and will face its first public hearing on Friday, March 11, in the Gold Room on the Statehouse's fourth floor.
The bill (SB 1167) proposes to dedicate up to 32 percent of the Idaho Transportation Department's total annual budget to fund 13 ambitious projects ranging from a new bridge over the Snake River near Twin Falls, to a widening of Interstate 84 from Caldwell to Meridian, to an unprecedented extension of State Highway 16 from I-84 to Emmett, and then from Emmett to U.S. Highway 95 below New Meadows.
A 1995 federal law allowed states to use their federal transportation funds to pay off debt-financing instruments known as GARVEE (Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle) Bonds, and Idaho's would be the second largest GARVEE experiment yet to take place. The crucial difference: The largest, which took place in Colorado in 1999, commenced only after a statewide vote gave the Deparment of Transportation authority to issue the bonds. Kempthorne, however, prefers the friendly confines of an overwhelmingly Republican legislature, and has yet to offer Idaho voters the chance to have their say on his legacy.
war in Iraq
U.S. CASUALTIES: As of Tuesday, March 8, 1504 U.S. service members (including 10 Idahoans) have died since the war in Iraq began in March 2003: 1149 in combat and 355 from non-combat related incidents and accidents. Injured service members total 11,285. In the last week, 14 U.S. soldiers died.
Since President George W. Bush declared "mission accomplished" aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003, 1361 soldiers have died.
Source: U.S. Dept. of Defense
IRAQI CIVILIAN DEATHS: Estimated between 16,241 and 18,491.
COST OF IRAQ WAR: $154,672,820,587
U.S. national debt
The outstanding national debt as of Tuesday, February 22, is $7,739,885,059,360.93. Each citizen's share of this debt is $26,167.79.
Source: U.S. Debt Clock
-by Nicholas Collias