US officials OK eastern Idaho phosphate mine expansion

U.S land managers have approved a final plan for expanding an open-pit phosphate mine in southeastern Idaho proposed by the J.R. Simplot Company.

The U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management this week approved the project that’s expected to keep about 600 workers employed for another three years at Simplot’s existing Smokey Canyon Mine and Don Plant processing facility in Pocatello.

Phosphate mining has been a major business in the region for decades. Giant open pits are created to extract the phosphate ore that is turned into fertilizer used by farmers. But the area has more than a dozen federal Superfund sites requiring cleanup from past phosphate mining from multiple companies.

The East Smokey Panel Mine is the second phosphate mine U.S. officials have approved for Idaho-based Simplot this year. In April, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management approved the Dairy Syncline Mine Project, also in southeastern Idaho. The company started mining in the area nearly 80 years ago.

Simplot has said that modernized phosphate mining and reclamation techniques will prevent the kind of problems that led to the Superfund sites. Reclamation involves filling in open pits and planting vegetation to cover the areas.

Experts have said the area of the mine expansion is rich in phosphate because it was once a 116,000-square-mile inland sea where organic material from fish, plants and small animals was deposited during a 5 million year period about 265 million years ago. (AP)

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