An Idaho gold mining company said this week its planned exploratory drilling won’t take place in the Centennial Mountains near Kilgore until next summer.

Senior project manager Phil Bandy for Excellon Idaho Gold said although the Forest Service recently approved more than 130 exploratory holes and several miles of roads in the area a few miles northwest of Kilgore, they were only given until Dec. 15 to get started for this year.

“We’re weighing our options right now,” Bandy said. “I think most likely we’ll begin to do that work on July 15, the beginning of our field season next year. The approval just came so late in the year that it probably isn’t feasible for us to do much at this point.”

Bandy said the area approved for exploratory drilling is between 6,000 and 7,000 feet elevation and already has snow on the ground. He said they are required to wait until July 15 to allow nesting and fledging migratory birds to leave the area. The company will start taking ground and surface water samples starting as early as May “to get a baseline” throughout the year to compare to after drilling operations begin. With baseline data, they can determine if operations are affecting water chemistry.

Approval of the drilling operation was delayed last year when Idaho Conservation League and Greater Yellowstone Coalition took legal action against the proposal citing a lack of protection of streams holding native Yellowstone cutthroat trout and protecting water quality in some streams that runoff from the project area. The new approval from the Forest Service includes precautions to meet those objections.

Josh Johnson, of the Idaho Conservation League, said his view is the new plan still doesn’t guarantee water quality despite the Forest Service reworking some requirements to protect nearby streams. He didn’t confirm whether the league would bring new legal action.

“The next step for us is to evaluate the final decision and decide how we want to proceed,” Johnson said.

Excellon Idaho Gold plans to continue exploratory drilling in the Centennials for the next three to five years.

“Based on the data that we collect from those activities, the company will then decide whether or not it’s economically feasible to move forward with developing some sort of mine depending on where the gold is located,” Bandy said. “The research that’s been done to date has shown a lot of gold near the surface. Our plans are to drill deeper holes and hopefully we’ll determine that there’s more gold resources farther in depth. If that’s the case, we’ll have the option to look at an underground mine. But that’s all speculative now because now we don’t have sufficient data to make that decision to move forward.”

Besides an underground mine, Excellon Idaho Gold is also considering an open pit cyanide heap leach gold mine.

Johnson said the short-term concern is how the drilling will affect water quality, but he worries about Excellon’s end goals.

“An open pit cyanide heap leach gold mine would fundamentally change the character of the Kilgore area and destroy the natural environment in that area,” he said.

Bandy blames much of the public pushback and negative publicity the operation has received on the previous mining company Excellon purchased.

“To be quite frank, a lot of it has been because the company that had been running the project before we came in hadn’t done a very good job of reaching out to the public and the media explaining what they were planning to do,” Bandy said. “Excellon Resources acquired Otis Gold a couple of years ago and Otis didn’t really do a good job working with the local community in Dubois, Spencer and Clark County and surrounding areas to let folks know what was being planned.”

Bandy also said his company is up against ghosts of mining past.

“On one hand people are somewhat opposed to it because they have a preconceived notion about what mining is and the impacts it has,” he said. “A lot of that is based on what mining was in the early part of the last century. Modern mining techniques are very different than they used to be, but when someone hears exploration for mining it conjures up some pretty nasty images. We’ve been trying to address that as well.”

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