Picture painted by Midas Gold at Stibnite not as rosy as it looks

28th of Aug 2018

By John Rygh, a retired geologist and longtime resident of McCall, Idaho. Opinion piece originally posted in McCall’s local paper, the Star News.

Midas Gold has certainly been rolling out a persistent stream of deceptive fantasies about their proposed Stibnite mining project for the last couple years. Not exactly outright lies, but very carefully worded half-truths regarding a project riddled with murky uncertainties.

To this end, their public relations people have done an admirable job and are now claiming that there is strong local support for the project. I’d characterize current public opinion more as strong ambivalence and skepticism with some modest support. Much of that support may be based on misconceptions actively promoted by Midas, however. They have been claiming that the only way to fix the environmental problems left by previous mining operations is to allow Midas to “restore” the site by mining it yet again. It’s a seductive fantasy that appears to have at least a whiff of plausibility.

As a former minerals administrator for the Payette National Forest who has spent a lot of time working at the Stibnite site and reviewing Midas’ mining plans, I’d like to fill in a few blanks in the rosy picture that Midas has been pitching. I used to give Midas the benefit of the doubt when they started submitting preliminary plans that included some measures to clean up existing contamination at the proposed mine site. I had a good chuckle when they started referring to their mining plan (known as a Plan of Operations in the Forest Service) as a Plan of Restoration and Operations. OK, a little amusing “greenwashing” I thought to myself. Surely everyone understands that this is a massive mining project that will leave multiple huge holes in the ground and entire valleys filled with waste rock, right? Wrong.

I patiently waited for Midas to submit their final plan that hopefully would detail exactly how they would pull off this remarkable have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too project. When they finally did, it turned out to be disappointingly inadequate. The actual mining plan (which is available on the Forest Service website), proposes very little that would qualify as being “restoration” as most people understand the word. Interestingly enough, the term is not included in the extensive glossary of the plan. Just for the record, the common definition is: “the action of returning something to a former owner, place, or condition.” This is not going to happen.

If Midas were totally honest, they would just say that they intend to “clean up” some of the existing environmental problems and leave it at that. What is left unsaid is that even larger environmental impacts will likely remain at the site after they are done with this round of mining. In the long term, this project is highly unlikely to be the win-win situation that Midas portrays it as. I heard the sentiment expressed a while back that the mine is essentially a done deal and that rather than fight it, those in opposition should just try to make sure that the project is planned to be as environmentally benign as possible. If only that were possible.

Normally a reasonably thorough environmental analysis (including public input) of this complexity would require a good five years or so to complete. When I was still working during the early phases of this project I had the sense that Midas understood the time frame and was at least grudgingly accepting of it. All that changed when the current federal administration came into power. Allow me to engage in a bit of predictive speculation (which of course Midas is welcome to refute) regarding the not-so public relations going on behind the scenes currently.

I suspect that Midas has now joined the ongoing federal deregulation feeding frenzy and is using every political means possible to get around existing environmental laws. A little chat here and there with the right people and word will come down from Washington that the Payette National Forest shall have the required analysis completed in a completely unattainable time frame. This pretty much guarantees that it will be a piece of junk. Which should make for a slam-dunk successful legal challenge in court. Normally a judge would tell the Forest Service to go back and do it right, but normal doesn’t seem to apply much anymore, so one has to wonder where Midas’ strategy leads from there. My guess is it will involve invoking “national security.” Sounds crazy? Wait and see.

Midas might have good intentions, but I’m sure they would prefer to play political hardball rather than provide adequate supporting scientific evidence for their claims of “restoration.”