Three environmental groups have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service to stop a drilling project by a company seeking to build a large open pit mine in the Boise River watershed.
The Idaho Conservation League, Golden Eagle Audubon Society, and Idaho Rivers United filed the lawsuit in federal court, saying the agency approved the drilling of the CuMo Exploration Project without taking sufficient steps to protect water quality and rare flower habitat.
The Forest Service approved the five-year drilling project proposed by American CuMo Mining Corp. to evaluate the feasibility of the mine in the headwaters of Grimes Creek, 14 miles north of Idaho City. CuMo says the site in the Boise National Forest is the largest un-mined molybdenum deposit in the world.
CuMo CEO and President Shaun Dykes said in a recent press release the company has shown the deposit can be competitive with other mining operations.
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"During 2016, the Company plans to further analyze additional optimizations designed to lower operating and capital cost estimates for the project," Dykes said. "The target for these optimizations is to reduce potential cash operating costs per pound molybdenum to under US $1 per pound."
Molybdenum prices have fallen to $5.40 per pound. The Thompson Creek molybdenum mine in Idaho has dramatically slowed production and has been forced to lay off much of its workforce as a result.
As approved by the Forest Service, CuMo would drill 259 exploratory holes from 1,500 to 3,000 feet underground throughout the 2,885-acre project site. To access the drill areas, CuMo would clear forest and build over 10 miles of roads. CuMo would also construct 137 drill pads and simultaneously operate up to four drill rigs day and night.
My family has owned property near Grimes Creek not far from the project site since 1970. Large-scale mining exploration here is incompatible with protecting Idaho’s natural heritage.
Boise resident Ann Finley
The project, if it goes forward, could create 1,000 jobs and transform the community of Idaho City. Many residents in Boise County support it.
The Forest Service first approved the CuMo Exploration Project in 2011. But in response to a lawsuit filed by the same conservation groups filing today, a federal judge halted the project in 2012, finding that the Forest Service failed to address water quality threats posed by the company’s extensive drilling plan. The lawsuit filed today challenges the latest approval.
In the lawsuit, the groups ask the court to order the Forest Service to protect against water contamination and the destruction of Sacajawea’s bitterroot habitat before allowing any exploration to proceed.
"Landowners, private companies, and conservation groups have worked together to restore stretches of Grimes Creek that were damaged by historic mining," said Kevin Lewis with Idaho Rivers United. "Bull trout have recently been found in the watershed. We don’t want this progress undone.”