Edward Lodge’s timing couldn’t have been better.
On Aug. 30, the federal judge put the brakes on exploratory drilling at a proposed copper and molybdenum mine about 15 miles north of Idaho City. The judge ordered the U.S. Forest Service to further analyze whether the drilling would affect groundwater quality.
A week later, Outside magazine released its list of the 10 best river towns in America. Boise came in at No. 3.
These two seemingly separate events are as connected as upstream and downstream.
If you care about and enjoy the Boise River — which, as Outside noted, is basically a prerequisite to living in Boise — then you are rightfully concerned about the prospect of open-pit mining above the headwaters of the river drainage. That’s why Lodge’s ruling is so important. That’s why its impact reverberates beyond the proposed mining area pictured on this page.
The site, the Grimes Creek drainage, is a historic mining area. Yet Vancouver, B.C.-based Mosquito Consolidated Gold Mines Ltd. says the area still holds an untapped lode of copper and molybdenum. On its website, the company’s prose about its CuMo mine borders on the breathless.
“CuMo is the largest unmined molybdenum project in the world! With the use of molybdenum in nearly every stainless steel product on the market today, the potential for this project is astounding.”
It is expected — albeit unsettling — when a publicly traded mining company becomes flush with paydirt fever. But we should be able to expect a regulatory agency to practice due diligence and make sure a project is environmentally benign.
In that sense, Lodge’s ruling is more a rebuke of the Forest Service than it is of Mosquito Gold:
“The very nature of drilling holes 1,500 to 3,000 feet into the ground seems likely to impact the underlying surface, including the groundwater. The appropriate course would be for the Forest Service to have conducted some baseline study and analysis of the groundwater in the area.”
All the more troubling is the fact that this phase — drilling 259 holes at the site — is merely a preliminary step to map the mineral deposits. On this early stage of the project, the Forest Service failed to do its homework.
To make matters even worse, the agency failed on a sensitive project directly upstream from Idaho’s largest city, and upstream of an urban river ecosystem and recreational area that few other cities can match.
To love the Boise River is to feel protective of the river. That love of the river brings us together — the newcomers who fall in love with Boise’s on-your-doorstep outdoor recreation, and the longtimers who can remember the community’s heroic efforts, decades ago, to convert the area from garbage dump to Greenbelt.
Were something to go wrong at the Mosquito Gold mine, the contamination could spoil one of Boise’s best features.
And one of Boise’s best-loved features, as the Outside magazine article illustrates.
The river city rankings weren’t entirely scientific.
First, the editors collaborated with American Rivers, a conservation group, to winnow a list of 50 cities to a top 10 — based, says Outside, “on criteria such as cost of living, cultural vibrancy, job prospects, environmental stewardship, and access to the outdoors.”
Then, the Top 10 was put to a vote, and Boise finished No. 3.
Perhaps, Boiseans stuffed the ballot box a bit. So what? That only underscores the larger point.
The Boise River is invaluable and irreplaceable.
It is not subject to compromise.
It is not for sale.
When Mosquito Gold touts the economic impact of extracting minerals above the Boise River’s headwaters, a $16 billion operation that can support 1,000 high-paying jobs, we’re left with a very simple question.
At what cost?
For all the economic stakes — for the Valley, and for Mosquito Gold — the environmental stakes are higher. They take precedent. Through that prism, Mosquito Gold will and must be judged as a prospective corporate neighbor.
After Lodge’s ruling, Mosquito Gold issued a news release downplaying the effects on the project — a sentiment summed up a few days earlier by company President and CEO Brian McClay.
“This is a bump in the road,” he told the Statesman’s Rocky Barker.
Bump in the road?
Not if you’re contemplating an open-pit mine above the Boise River.
Above Boise’s river.
“Our View” is the editorial position of the Idaho Statesman. It is an unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman’s editorial board. To comment or suggest a topic, email email@example.com.