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County objects to SF river mining regs

Decision on hold to review objections

— Idaho County joined Mike Edmondson of Elk City in objecting to a Forest Service proposal that would streamline suction dredging regulations, and the county filed an objection of its own in mid-April.

The Forest Service’s plan would allow the agency to approve a limited number of suction dredging operations each year in the area of Orogrande Creek and French Creek northeast of Kamiah and in the South Fork Clearwater River west of Elk City. The project would allow suction dredgers to meet the requirements of numerous federal regulations by filing a plan of operations with the Forest Service.

Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests Supervisor Cheryl Probert moved the project forward in February. The project also drew objections from two mining rights organizations and two environmentalist organizations.

Specifically, Idaho County objected to the cap of 15 suction dredging operations that would be allowed on the South Fork and objected to the state’s “total maximum daily load” (TMDL) limit. The TMDL amount – 314 tons per day on the South Fork – was determined by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency in 2003, and functions to protect the river’s water quality in compliance with the Clean Water Act. In effect, the project would assign one share of the allowable load to each of up to 15 suction dredging operations each year. The county’s objection asks that the Forest Service instead evaluate each suction dredging operation individually, on a “site-by-site basis.”

Edmondson’s objection contemplates what would happen if fewer than 15 suction dredgers sought to work the South Fork during any given season. When the commission discussed it at its regular meeting April 12, a concern was raised that if each operation were limited to one-fifteenth of the TMDL regardless how many miners showed up, there would be years when each individual miner would be allowed to move less than a fair share.

Edmondson’s objection also challenges the authority of the Forest Service to regulate suction dredging in the first place. His objection refers back to a comment filed last December by American Mining Rights Association president Shannon Poe, in which Poe claimed “the responsibility falls on the miner to determine if he/she is creating a significant disturbance.”

Absent the objections, implementation could have begun in late April. Probert’s decision is on hold while the Forest Service’s Northern Region works to address the objections.


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