Environment

World's largest gold miner puts $38 million bet on new Idaho project

The East Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon River runs through the Stibnite mine site.
The East Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon River runs through the Stibnite mine site.

Now that the largest gold mining company in the world has bought a 20 percent stake in Midas Gold, the Idaho operation has the capital it needs to finish permitting its Stibnite mining project near McCall.

Barrick Gold invested $38 million in the Canadian company whose Idaho subsidiary is proposing to do both mining and restoration on the East Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon River.

Laurel Sayer, president and CEO of Midas Gold Idaho, said the new partnership will "help make the Stibnite Gold Project a reality and get us across the finish lines of permitting and feasibility."

Midas is working with the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies on the 50 permits it will need for the gold and antimony mine in the historic mining district. It hopes to complete the process and get a permit by the end of 2019 and invest $1 billion in the project. The company predicts it will create 1,000 jobs, and an annual direct and indirect payroll of $55 million.

The company's proposed environmental benefits made the investment especially attractive to Barrick. Midas' plans include reconnecting native spawning habitat for endangered chinook salmon before it even begins mining.

"Midas Gold’s Stibnite Gold project in Idaho offers a compelling investment proposition, with low geopolitical risk,” Barrick President Kelvin Dushnisky said in a statement. "We are also impressed with the emphasis that Midas Gold has placed on building partnerships with local communities, and share their strong commitment to environmental stewardship."

Midas will stop hundreds of tons of sediment from entering the river from an earthen dam that failed in the 1960s, Sayer said. Another pile of 10.5 million tons of ore and waste left by past miners will be reprocessed and its toxic metals removed. The company also plans to invest in wetlands and the stream channel so the ecosystem can recover and habitat and water quality can be restored, she said.

Stibnite has been periodically mined since the 1800s for gold and antimony, a metal used in batteries and flame retardant. Miners left open pits and dug-up stream beds that continue to leak cyanide, mercury, antimony and other toxic metals into the river, the U.S. Geological Survey said in 2015.

The Forest Service, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and several mining companies spent $13 million over the last four decades to reduce the pollution.

Miners estimate they can still extract 300,000 ounces of gold annually from the site, along with the antimony.

Sayer, former executive director of the Idaho Coalition of Land Trusts, leads an board of directors of mostly Valley County residents who have reached out to the McCall area community for support. But environmental groups and Indians tribes remain skeptical about the project.

American Rivers recently named the South Fork of the Salmon River one of the nation’s most endangered rivers, pointing to the threat from the mine.

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