Judge allows Nez Perce Tribe’s suit over gold mining plans near McCall to proceed

An Idaho judge has denied a request by a Canadian company hoping to mine for gold in central Idaho to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the Nez Perce Tribe requesting that the site be cleaned up.

U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill this week denied a motion from Midas Gold to dismiss the tribe’s lawsuit, but is expected to rule soon on the company’s motion to stay the proceedings pending the outcome of pollution cleanup negotiations between Midas Gold, the Environmental Protection Agency, Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, and U.S. Forest Service.

British Columbia-based Midas Gold has said its plan for the area about 40 miles east of McCall, where it has never mined, will clean up pollution from past mining companies if it’s allowed to proceed.

The tribe filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in August, saying Midas is illegally allowing arsenic, cyanide, and mercury to remain in the area where the tribe has had hunting and fishing rights since an 1855 treaty with the U.S. Midas Gold in the past decade has acquired existing mining claims in the area and is seeking approval from U.S. agencies to start work at what is known as the Stibnite Mining District.

The company has said the area in the headwaters of the South Fork of the Salmon River contains an estimated 4 million ounces of gold. Mining there dates back more than a century and has left two open pits, including one that is now filled with water that has been blocking a salmon and steelhead spawning stream since the 1930s. The site also has extensive tailings left from mining operations that are the source of elevated levels of arsenic.

The EPA has spent $4 million since the 1990s trying to clean up the area. (Lewiston Tribune, AP)