Groups seek to stop gold mine exploratory drilling in Idaho

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Environmental groups are renewing efforts to stop exploratory drilling by a Canadian mining company hoping to build a gold mine in Idaho west of Yellowstone National Park.

The Idaho Conservation League and Greater Yellowstone Coalition, in documents filed in federal court last month against the U.S. Forest Service, ask that the case involving Excellon Idaho Gold’s Kilgore Gold Exploration Project in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest in Clark County be reopened.

Excellon Idaho Gold is a subsidiary of Toronto, Ontario-based Excellon Resources Inc. It acquired the project from British Columbia-based Otis Gold Corporation in 2020.

Otis Gold Corporation said the area contains at least 825,000 ounces (23.4 million grams) of gold near the surface, and potentially more deeper. It said it was looking at possibly building an open-pit mine if exploration finds that the gold is mostly near the surface, or an underground mine if the gold is deeper.

Those types of mines would require additional approval from the Forest Service.

The exploratory project was halted following federal court rulings in 2019 and 2020 concerning potential harm to Yellowstone cutthroat trout.

The Forest Service late last year approved a new plan involving road building and 130 drill stations.

“After this second review, we are pleased to further confirm that we at Excellon Idaho Gold will use all the appropriate safeguards necessary to protect our nation’s and Idaho’s lands, waters, and wildlife,” Phil Bandy, senior project manager for Excellon Idaho Gold, SAID in a statement. “We look forward to continued work with the Forest Service and the people of Clark County.”

The environmental groups in court documents said the groups should be allowed to file a proposed supplemental complaint reopening the case because the Forest Service violated various environmental laws in approving the new plan.

“The proposed supplemental complaint challenges the Forest Service’s re-approval of the same mine exploration project,” the groups said in court documents. “As it did when it first approved the Kilgore Project in 2018, the Forest Service has now approved the Project without taking a hard look at groundwater and Yellowstone cutthroat trout related to drilling in the Dog Bone Ridge area. Furthermore, new factual and legal developments have resulted in other legal violations threatening water quality, fish, and wildlife at the Project site.”

The groups contend that the plan submitted by the mining company and the Forest Service’s approval are essentially repeats of what the court previously rejected.

The Forest Service initially approved the exploration in 2018. But the Idaho Conservation League and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition filed a lawsuit in November 2018 contending the exploratory drilling could pollute groundwater and surface water.

The groups also said the drilling would harm grizzly bears, whitebark pine, Yellowstone cutthroat trout and Columbia spotted frogs.

The federal court ruled the Forest Service didn’t violate environmental laws in determining the exploratory drilling wouldn’t overly harm grizzly bears, whitebark pine or Columbia spotted frogs.

However, the court found the Forest Service hadn’t done an adequate analysis involving groundwater quality in the Dog Bone Ridge drainage, home to Yellowstone cutthroat trout. The trout are considered a sensitive species facing threats to population or habitat.

The new plan approved by the Forest Service says water for drilling at Dog Bone Ridge will now come from Beaver Creek rather than Corral Creek. The agency also said Excellon has added several monitoring sites associated with Dog Bone Ridge.

It’s not clear when the federal court could make a ruling on reopening the case.