The Nez Perce Tribe is threatening to sue a Canadian mining company over a proposed mining project on the Salmon River, claiming it violates the federal Clean Water Act and threatens the tribe’s treaty rights.
Midas Gold Idaho — a subsidiary of Canadian company Midas Gold Corp. — is in the federal permitting process to start open-pit mining along the East Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon River, also known as the Stibnite Gold Project. The Nez Perce Tribe, based in Lapwai, issued a 60-Day Notice of Intent to sue Midas Gold Wednesday under the federal Clean Water Act for “illegally discharging arsenic and other harmful pollutants” at the site.
“Midas Gold’s unlawful discharge of pollutants into waters within and below their proposed Stibnite Gold Mine threatens Nez Perce treaty rights,” said Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee Chairman Shannon Wheeler in the press release. “Midas Gold portrays itself as a socially-responsible mining company committed to environmental restoration of the area. Contrary to their public promises, the data clearly show that Midas Gold is harming the environment.”
The area where Midas Gold is proposing to mine for gold and antimony is located with the Nez Perce tribe’s aboriginal territory, meaning the tribe has fishing, gathering and pasturing rights reserved in their 1855 treaty with the U.S. According to the press release, the federal public lands included in the Stibnite Gold Project provide “irreplaceable habitat for iconic, culturally significant resources” like Chinook salmon, steelhead, bull trout, elk, moose and bighorn sheep, according to the press release.
For the last two years, conservation group American Rivers has named the East Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon River one of the most endangered rivers in America because of the proposed mining project. The Nez Perce tribe adopted a formal resolution opposing Midas Gold’s plans in October 2018, according to a previous Idaho Press report.
The tribe claims Midas Gold is illegally discharging toxins into the water around the mining site, including Meadow Creek, wetlands adjacent to Meadow Creek, Sugar Creek, and the East Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon River.
In an email statement to the Idaho Press, Midas Gold CEO Laurel Sayer denied the allegations, saying the company didn’t cause the current problems, has never mined on site “and therefore (has) not discharged any water at site.” The concerning arsenic and antimony levels were caused by past mining operations, Sayer said.
“We have long shared the Nez Perce Tribe’s concerns over water quality in the Stibnite Mining District and we are aware of the site’s historically degraded water quality,” Sayer told the Idaho Press. “Filing a lawsuit will not fix the problem. Instead, the site needs to be cleaned up, a point we are certain the Tribe can agree.”