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Lawsuit: Dredge mining done without permits in Idaho river

August 15, 2018

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A conservation group has filed a federal lawsuit contending a miner in Idaho is ignoring environmental laws and encouraging unpermitted mining by other gold seekers.

In its citizen enforcement lawsuit filed Friday in U.S. District Court, the Idaho Conservation League contends that suction dredge mining by Shannon Poe of Concord, California, is violating the federal Clean Water Act on the South Fork of the Clearwater River.

Suction dredge miners use an underwater hose to suck up gravel and sort it for gold in a sluice box mounted on a watercraft. The sediment is discharged downstream.

Critics say the dredging can destroy fish spawning beds and discharged sediment can smother fish eggs.

Federal and state agencies have repeatedly notified Poe of the violations, but Poe denies he is subject to the Clean Water Act, the lawsuit says. Poe didn’t respond to a phone message Wednesday.

Under the act, dredge miners need a permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The lawsuit contends Poe has dredged the South Fork of the Clearwater River numerous times since 2014 without a permit.

The waterway is designated critical habitat for federally protected steelhead, salmon and bull trout.

The lawsuit asks a judge to impose civil penalties for previous violations and prohibit Poe from operating a suction dredge in Idaho unless he complies with the law.

Penalties for illegal dredging can surpass $50,000 a day. The group’s lawsuit also seeks court costs from Poe.

Jonathan Oppenheimer of the Idaho Conservation League said the group has notices pending against another 11 miners it has documented with photos and videos breaking the law.

He said nearly 30 dredge miners have been on the river this year but only 14 have obtained permits. The lawsuit was filed, he said, because federal and state officials didn’t act to make sure miners follow the law.

The U.S. Forest Service didn’t return calls seeking comment.

Idaho and Forest Service officials said earlier this year that they were aware that some dredge miners on the river haven’t been following the rules.

Miners over the years have tried to persuade Idaho politicians to eliminate federal Clean Water Act protections and also open wild and scenic rivers to mining but to no avail.

Miners have also argued that suction dredges improve rivers.

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